Government says dialogue is key to promoting reforms at public utilities

The government seems to have neutralized potential sources of labor strife at public utilities in which it holds large stakes. Pay agreements for this year and next have been concluded at most of them, while, regarding the proposed reform to labor regulations, which seemed to be a source of friction, utility managers have been given an informal extension of the deadline till the end of August. Originally, the government had set the end of April as a deadline for the settlement of all issues. The ministerial committee on utilities, which convened yesterday, found that at 48 of the 53 utilities and public organizations pay pacts had been concluded with raises of 3-4 percent and similar agreements are expected at the rest. At the end of the meeting, Transport and Communications Minister Michalis Liapis appeared at pains to stress that the changes were made keeping in mind social considerations and would be based on dialogue with the workers. «For us, a safety valve in all this dialogue is the good relations with employees, the open and constant dialogue and, of course, a spirit of consensus. It is in this spirit that we shall begin a dialogue on changing labor regulations where it is needed. I must say that the mild adjustment in the economy requires mild changes in labor regulations, which means that only with the consent of employees can we change some antiquated provisions… We have several months in front of us to conclude an agreement,» he said. Economy Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis said there is a climate of consensus that promotes growth, employment and social cohesion. Separately, the General Confederation of Greek Labor (GSEE) said the ministers’ conclusions vindicated its initial criticism of the reform legislation on utilities (Law 3429) and its prediction that it would prove ineffective. «It is now clear that no legislative initiative was needed, or threat of abolishing free collective bargaining at utilities. At most (of them), collective pay pacts have been reached above the limits of income policy, thus making the law a dead letter,» GSEE said in a statement. Hellenic Petroleum Workers at refiner Hellenic Petroleum will get a slightly better wage increase this year, its chairman said yesterday, a move analysts said is not expected to derail the firm’s cost containment efforts. Chairman Efthymios Christodoulou told shareholders at an annual meeting that management had agreed with workers to a 4 percent wage rise, up from 3.4 percent in 2005. The government has forecast average inflation of 3.2 percent this year. «Management is committed to cutting costs on all fronts. The salary increase does not mean any deviation from this policy,» said an analyst who preferred not to be named. The pay increase is higher than the 3 percent offered by the government for civil servants and workers at state firms for 2006. Private sector workers will see their salaries go up by 11.3 percent by the end of 2007 under a two-year deal. The country’s largest refiner has set a target of zero growth in operating expenditures in a bid to contain costs. It has forecast operating costs of 355 million euros this year versus 351 million in 2005. Hellenic Petroleum posted a forecast-beating 32 percent rise in net profit to 72 million euros ($92.69 million) in the first quarter of this year. (Kathimerini, Reuters)

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