Reforms in balance

While new data shows Greeks to be Europe’s hardest workers, the government is preparing labor market reforms that will add to working hours and union groups have indicated they are ready to repeat their recent strike action. The Labor Ministry is in the process of contacting various union and labor groups over labor market reforms in a bid to secure their approval following union action which paralyzed the banking system for more than three weeks due to their opposition to the recently approved pension reforms. The conservative government, however, appears determined to proceed with the changes despite the political bruises it could be left with should it clash anew with the unions in the second half of its four-year term. Among other changes, the Labor Ministry is proposing to drop the eight-hour working day for retailers and to give them the right to open for more hours. The government also wants to allow employers to ask for three hours of overtime per week from their employees. Union groups say that the changes favor the large multinationals that can afford to pay more in labor costs, while the state’s argument centers around potential job creation. «The kiosk, the patisserie, the florist, the corner store can survive because they are open more hours and during the time which best suits consumers,» said Deputy Development Minister Yiannis Papathanasiou. Thessaloniki’s retail employees and small business owners have been the first to act, calling a 24-hour strike for tomorrow, joined by the Confederation of Private Employees (OIYE). The General Confederation of Greek Small Businesses and Traders has arranged a demonstration outside Parliament tomorrow to voice its opposition as well. Heavyweight GSEE, the country’s largest umbrella union, has threatened strike action but has so far settled on agreeing to take part in reform talks. The proposed increase in retailing hours comes at a time when Greeks are already the hardest workers in Europe, spending 44.1 hours on the job per week, according to data released by the European Commission yesterday. The average number of hours worked in the European Union in the last quarter of 2004 amounted to 40.9 hours. The second-hardest workers were the Czechs, at 43.1 hours of work per week, while the French worked the least.

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