Labor reforms decreed

Having decided to put an end to stalled discussions with union leaders over its labor reforms, the government yesterday submitted the relevant bill to Parliament, drawing accusations that it was pandering to big business as well as promises from unions of «powerful and decisive» action. The bill seeks to introduce more flexible work hours and cheaper overtime as part of a drive that, the government says, will make Greece more competitive. «The reforms will help us confront the big problems of unemployment and competitiveness, which we have, and to attract foreign investment while stemming the flow of companies going abroad,» said Economy and Finance Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis. According to the bill, employees working a regular 40-hour week will be paid 25 percent extra on their normal hourly rate for the first five hours of overtime, as opposed to the current 50 percent. Employers will be allowed to ask for these five hours of overtime within a week but any hours of overtime worked above that during the week will be paid a double rate. The draft law also proposes that bosses be allowed to demand their staff be more flexible with their eight-hour working day by giving them the power to ask an employee to work up to 10 hours in a single day in return for working fewer hours on another day. Workers will retain the right to refuse to take part in this flexible scheme, without having their jobs put in peril, under the proposed law. «The measures are needed so we can avoid social exclusion in Greek society and stave off a new wave of poverty,» said Labor Minister Panos Panayiotopoulos. However, labor unions have seized on the flexible work hours in particular as a sign that the government is tampering with the traditional eight-hour workday, as well as workers’ rights in general. «The government is undermining, casting doubt on and overturning the eight-hour workday,» Christos Polyzogopoulos, the head of the country’s largest umbrella union, the General Confederation of Greek Labor (GSEE), said in a statement yesterday. Earlier in the week, Panayiotopoulos indicated that he was willing to wait a little longer before submitting the draft law, in a final desperate attempt to reach some kind of consensus with GSEE. Panayiotopoulos met with Polyzogopoulos on Monday for failed talks and the minister then issued two public appeals for the unionists to return to the negotiating table but was turned down. GSEE said it felt the government was trying to steamroll the bill through and that talk of wanting a «dialogue» over the reforms was simply a mantra for public consumption without any true substance behind it. However, the collapse in talks between GSEE and two unions representing employers – the General Confederation of Greek Small Businesses and Traders (GSEVEE) and the Federation of Greek Industries (SEV) – on Thursday seems to have been enough to convince the government that it had nothing to gain by waiting any longer to submit the bill. The ruling conservatives will now probably face fierce opposition from labor unions, which is likely to manifest itself in the form of industrial action. «GSEE condemns these anti-labor measures and will react powerfully and decisively,» Polyzogopoulos warned.

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