ECONOMY

Employers and unions inch closer

Relations between employers and unions yesterday appeared to be breaking new ground, registering convergence on a long-standing union demand for a reduction of the working week and for a broad debate on labor regulations. Speaking after a second round of negotiations with leaders of the General Confederation of Greek Workers (GSEE) on the renewal of the collective labor agreement, Federation of Greek Industries (SEV) Chairman Lefteris Antonakopoulos said employers had proposed that the working week be shortened by one hour to 39 as of January 1, 2004, in the framework of a three-year deal. «I believe that today we made two very important steps, at least on our side. To begin with, we have accepted a reduction in working time by one hour, setting 2004 as a target so that our companies and working people have ample time to adapt,» he said. Antonakopoulos said the two sides had also agreed to discuss problems in the existing framework of labor regulations, particularly as regards overtime work, which employers have been viewing as dysfunctional and costly, and to see if improvements could be made. However, negotiations on the whole appeared to be making little progress on the more immediate issue of pay raises, with GSEE rejecting a 4.5 percent increase proposed by employers and insisting on 6 percent. «The rate proposed by employers cannot safeguard the incomes of working people and contribute to the necessary steps toward real social convergence, it cannot be a basis and starting point for an agreement,» said GSEE Chairman Christos Polyzogopoulos. Antonakopoulos said the proposal for a 4.5 percent pay raise took into account the rate of projected inflation for 2002, 1 percent due from the expired pact and an element for convergence toward the average European Union level. Polyzogopoulos was also dismissive of the idea for a three-year deal. «The confederation cannot discuss a three-year deal. And, of course, the reduction in working time must be introduced within the period of the new agreement,» he said. Employers and unions have never signed a three-year collective labor agreement, which traditionally has had a one-year duration, but has tended to be extended to two years during the last decade. The unions, nevertheless, welcomed the idea of a broad debate on the legislative framework of labor relations. «Such a debate after the signing of a labor agreement is of particular significance and value. GSEE accepts it and is prepared to support the formulation of a framework of labor relations which will provide answers to complex problems of the labor market,» said Polyzogopoulos. Negotiations will resume on March 11.