Workers’ health and safety

Workers’ health and safety is another area where existing legislation is not adhered to. «An EU directive and presidential decrees stipulate that the health system continues to evaluate work conditions for workers. This in practice is not adhered to in Greece,» said Christos Ioannou, managing director of the Hellenic Institute for Health and Safety at Work (1993-2001) and currently a member of the Body of Intermediaries. He explained: «In progressive EU member states, depending on the extent of hazards occurring at work, businesses pay the insurance fund 1-3 percent of salary costs for implementing a health and safety work policy. In Greece, contributions toward occupational hazards have been 1 percent since 1960, paid mainly by companies to the IKA social insurance fund. However, this amount, which forms a part of non-salaried costs, has never been used for its intended purpose.» In Greece, in contrast to other EU countries where the various insurance funds for each sector are responsible for preventing occupational hazards, the responsibility has simply slipped from the jurisdiction of the insurance system and now lies with the health system, for private companies alone. When the relevant legislation was passed using the argument that the Greek public sector could not fulfill this obligation, the so-called Health-Safety and Environmental Services (EXYPP) were created: private companies for the prevention of occupational hazards. Interestingly, some of the state operators and representatives that came up with idea of EXYPP were the very ones who created the companies and hence enjoyed monopolistic control in the area. Greek law also stipulates that all firms – even a kiosk that has one employee or a lawyer and his/her assistant – are obliged to have a safety technician. The EXYPP charged high fees for this service and, predictably, small and medium-sized companies rebelled. A new format was produced: 10-hour seminars at vocational training centers (KEK) whereby SME entrepreneurs were exonerated from paying for a safety technician as they received training on health and safety issues in the form of seminars. Thus at a rate of 200-400 euros – depending on demand and the seminars conducted in each area – the know-how has often been acquired by the entrepreneur’s spouse or child who attend the seminars. Since the 1990s, the European Union has sent recommendations to update the list of occupational illnesses that Greece is unaware of. «However, without precise knowledge, classification and recognition of occupational illnesses, effective preventive measures cannot be taken and the burden on the insurance companies will not be relieved,» said Ioannou. In 2006, the European Union will assess the Greek system for health and safety at work. Under the present circumstances it will come up against difficulties.