Low wages lead many Greeks to take on overtime and second or even third jobs

Recent statistics have revealed that, on average, Greeks work longer hours than their counterparts in other European Union member states. This was one of the findings by Eurostat, the EU’s statistical arm, which released the figures last week in an annual report. The report accounts not only for the hours recorded on paper, but those actually worked, be they in overtime or extra time and be they paid or not. These same conclusions were also reached by the report of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Greek workers spent just over 44 hours a week at their jobs in 2004 (44.1 in 2004 and 44.3 in 2003), while the average worker of the European Union’s 25 member-states spends 41.7 hours. Workers in countries from the 15 countries admitted to the EU before 2004 work 41.5 hours. According to Eurostat’s data, which is not completed, Greece did slip into second place because Austrian workers were reported to have spent 45 hours a week at their jobs in 2004 compared to 41.5 hours in 2003. Nevertheless, over a five-year period Greeks still top the charts for the longest hours at work in Europe. At the top in real labor «The standard in Greece is a 40-hour workweek, the highest among Europe’s 15,» says Yiannis Kouzis, a professor at Panteion University in Athens and technical adviser to the Labor Institute of the General Confederation of Greek Labor (GSEE). «Among the 15 EU member states, the standard working week, meaning the hours stipulated by collective labor agreements, is 38 hours, while the average for the expanded 25 member states is 38.6 hours a week. Greece is at the same level in terms of hours as countries such as Hungary and Latvia, while Slovakia, for example, has a 38.5 hour standard workweek and Cyprus 38,» says Kouzis. «But, in terms of real labor, actual hours spent at work, we top the list in Europe. Specifically, over the past few years, Greece has shown the second-longest working hours in Europe, after Britain.» «The main reason for the longer hours is that Greek workers have low wages and accept overtime employment so they can supplement their incomes,» continues Kouzis. «According to our data, one in three workers takes on overtime employment on a regular basis. A large percentage also hold more than one job. Indeed, at least one in five workers take on a second or even a third job to make ends meet.» With two or more jobs, workers’ hours often soar above 60 hours a week while Saturdays (and even Sundays at times) as a day off become a distant memory. The rise in actual hours spent at work can also be attributed to increasing pressure by employers who blackmail their employees into working longer hours, sometimes even without overtime pay. The eight-hour day is also a pipe dream for people working off the books, freelance professionals who do not work fixed hours and contract workers, among others. Grave repercussions The social repercussions of this increase in work-hours are grave indeed. «First of all, our free time is shrinking,» says Kouzis. This translates into the deterioration of social and family life, and the restriction of time spent on education or mere recreation, he says. Most importantly, it also has a negative impact on health: Overworked people are more prone to stress-related illnesses. «We must also remember the increased danger of accidents in the workplace,» Kouzis says. “Most occur either at the beginning or the end of the working day, when the worker has not got into the swing of the task or when his or her reflexes are numbed by weariness. You can only imagine what will happen if we reach 10-12 working hours a day, how much more likely accidents would be. This is one of the reasons why workers’ groups refuse to settle on amendments of the eight-hour day.» The truth is that Greece, over the past few years, has not followed the trend that emerged in the rest of Europe in the 1980s and ’90s of reducing working hours. As a country, it has always lagged in applying worker-friendly labor laws. For example, the International Labor Agreement on the eight-hour, six-day week may have been signed in 1920, but it was not until 1932 that a presidential decree in Greece applied it to certain areas of industry. Five years later, a royal command made it applicable to all areas of industry. It was not until 1975, about a year after the fall of the dictatorship, that the national labor agreement included for the first time the concept of a ceiling for the standard working week – 45 hours – and the possibility for a five-day week. This gave labor unions the right to press for shorter working hours without a cut in pay. The national labor agreement of 1984 established the five- or six-day 40-hour week. It also gave employers the right to demand overtime of up to 48 hours a week with a 25 percent increase in the hourly wage, while leaving pay for further overtime hours up to formal negotiation. In the 1990s, the consecutive Socialist governments did not adopt the reduction of working hours like other socialist governments in Europe, such as France and Germany. Instead, the standard working week remained the same. «Only certain sectors, such as bank employees, specific areas of public administration and construction workers (with a seven-hour day) have a smaller standard working week,» Kouzis says. Today, the current government is promoting policies to increase actual work hours, mainly through making operating hours more flexible and reducing overtime benefits.