Labor relations put on the table

The government said yesterday it is preparing to launch talks on introducing reforms to the labor market in the autumn in an attempt to halt the country’s waning competitiveness, prompting workers to warn of fierce protest action against the changes. Economy and Finance Minister Yiannis Papathanassiou said reforms are needed to help boost productivity, attract new investments and create jobs. «We are obliged to prepare from now for new challenges in the area of employment,» he told a conference yesterday. According to sources, the government is working on a series of initiatives that include deregulating professions and reducing allowances paid to public service employees operating under hazardous work conditions. Greece’s 70 regulated professions, such as notaries and pharmacists, are estimated to cost the country some 4 billion euros every year on account of unjustifiably higher prices for what are generally low-quality services. Regulated professions, also known as closed-shop professions, are occupational groups in which the number of participants is closely controlled by the state. The European Commission has called for the deregulation of these jobs and the relevant law needs to be in effect next year, said a government source. Greece’s largest private sector union group, GSEE, responded to Papathanassiou’s comments yesterday by saying that any attempt to cut the working week as part of the overhaul will be seen as «an act of war.» «None of New Democracy’s reformist proposals will find workers and union groups in agreement,» said GSEE president Yiannis Panagopoulos. Late last year, the country’s largest chamber of commerce, EBEA, recommended that businesses reduce the number of days worked by employees as a means of avoiding job cuts in a policy from which the government has distanced itself.