No progress in wage negotiations

Workers’ and employers’ unions have agreed to meet on March 21 for another round of negotiations on private-sector wage increases for the next two years after failing to reach agreement yesterday on the size of the wage hike and the time frame for the introduction of a 39-hour working week. Both sides blamed each other for the lack of success during yesterday’s talks, the third meeting between umbrella trade union body GSEE, the Federation of Greek Industries (SEV), the General Confederation of Professional Craftsmen and Small Manufacturers of Greece (GSEVEE) and the National Confederation of Hellenic Commerce (ESEE). GSEE President Christos Polyzogopoulos said the employers’ unions had taken «an uncompromising stand» and failed to view the issue from the workers’ perspective. But employers said they had yielded to GSEE’s demands on two issues. «We are backing down from our proposed three-year collective labor agreement,» said ESEE head Christos Folias, noting that wage negotiations would now cover the next two years. Employers also proposed to raise wages by 4.8 percent for the first year, up from 4.5 percent previously. The wage hike for the second year would cover the average inflation for 2003, plus 0.5 percent. GSEE, on the other hand, has requested a 6-percent wage increase which would average out at a net increase of 1.5 percent after deducting inflation and a 1.1 percent catch-up clause from last year. Dismissing the employers’ offer of a 0.5-percent wage hike, Polyzogopoulos said the minimal increase would hardly help Greeks achieve real convergence with their European brethren. The issue of when to implement a 39-hour working week also remains an apple of discord between the two sides. Employers want to launch the reduced work schedule in 2004 on condition that the new overtime regime introduced by former Labor Minister Tassos Yiannitsis last year be rescinded. The new labor law jacked up overtime pay by 50 percent from 25 percent in a bid to discourage overtime work and at the same time spur employers to hire additional staff for supplementary work. Trade unionists, however, insisted on 2003 as the kick-off date for a 39-hour working week and said further research into other European countries would be needed regarding the overtime issue.

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