Move to mend union fence

The government yesterday moved to close the gap that separates it from labor groups by backing some of their claims as concern mounts that recent clashes with workers have eaten into its popularity. After a meeting with the heads of the General Confederation of Greek Labor (GSEE), Labor Minister Savvas Tsitouridis called for more talks between workers and industrialists regarding 2006 pay rises and reiterated his support for collective wage agreements. The comments follow a period of initial reluctance by the government to get involved in the issue when banks last month refused to enter into talks with the Greek Federation of Bank Employees’ Unions (OTOE) about annual pay rises. The conservative government had been avoiding taking a position on the issue but the potential political cost of a neutral stance appears to have resulted in a change in policy. Questioned on whether there will be any influence on state-controlled banks, the labor minister replied that «the government will exhaust all of its institutional and formal responsibilities.» Tsitouridis was appointed in last month’s reshuffle and has been credited with starting a thaw in ties with workers. His predecessor, Panos Panayiotopoulos, had never been invited by GSEE, the country’s largest umbrella union, for talks. Following yesterday’s meeting with Tsitouridis, GSEE President Christos Polyzogopoulos criticized the recent controversial use of civil mobilization as a means of ending an eight-day strike by seamen. He said the move was heavy-handed and ended the sailor’s right to strike despite the fact that a court had deemed their action legal. Government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos said that the state is looking again at the use of the measure. «The government is re-examining the structural framework of civil mobilization,» said Roussopoulos. It is not clear what the impact of this re-examination will be. Meanwhile, the Labor Ministry appears determined to approach the thorny issue of talks concerning reforms to the social security system. Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis has said his government will not push through changes to pensions in the current four-year term but will start doing the groundwork, such as the commission of feasibility studies and the launch of talks with workers and employers.