Gov’t distancing itself from EU rule

Greece distanced itself yesterday from a European Union agreement giving workers the ability to opt out of a maximum 48-hour workweek, as local union groups blamed the government for not doing enough to block the decision. EU nations agreed in Luxembourg on Tuesday to give temporary workers more rights across the 27-nation bloc as well as more flexibility for employees to work overtime. Workers cannot be forced to opt out of the maximum 48-hour week but can do so based on an agreement with trade unions or other bodies that regulate work conditions. Government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos said Greece does not support the change but added that it failed to vote against the deal as only a few countries would have done so. «We do not accept this position. We disagree. There is no decision that will be made into a directive,» he said. Greece, along with Spain, Belgium, Cyprus and Hungary, have said they will seek changes to the decision. The EU Parliament needs to approve the rules before they can take affect. Public sector union group ADEDY said the decision opens the way for the 48-hour week to be dropped, in favor of the 65-hour week. «With its stance, the government allows these decisions to be made easier and the return of labor relations to the Middle Ages,» said ADEDY. The deal ends a long stalemate between a group of EU countries led by France which wanted more workers rights and those led by Britain which demanded more flexibility for employers to work overtime as they saw fit. Countries in favor of keeping the 48-hour week, such as France and Sweden, have long believed in social protection aimed largely at guaranteeing a better balance between work and leisure time. Britain, on the other hand, bases its business culture on an American model that keeps government interference to a minimum in the belief that freedom promotes growth and opportunity. Some of the new EU members in Eastern Europe also are in favor of more flexible work rules to help them become as rich as the more established states. The PASOK party said Greece’s failure to vote against the decision effectively supports the deal.