New wage law approved

A law that will effectively prevent employees at struggling state-owned enterprises from collective wage bargaining was passed through parliament yesterday. After considerable internal as well as opposition dissent, the government will have been glad to see the bill approved by 51 votes to 48 in a reduced summer session of the House. The passing of the law is unlikely to be the end of the matter though, as several unions have said they will protest the measure. Workers on the Kifissia-Piraeus electric railway have already staged two days of stoppages. The new law means that workers at publicly owned utilities (DEKO) will no longer be able to unilaterally take their wage demands to an independent arbitrator when they are not happy with what management has offered. Economy and Finance Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis argued that this has led to a huge discrepancy between wages at DEKO on the one hand and in the private sector on the other. According to figures presented in parliament on Wednesday, the average annual wage at public enterprises was 43,280 euros last year, compared to 23,405 euros in the private sector. The finance minister said that this is crippling the DEKO, which are struggling to earn enough money to pay employees’ wages. He said, for instance, that Hellenic Railways Organization (OSE) had a turnover of 100 million euros in 2007 but paid out 400 million euros in salaries. PASOK had been against the bill but its economic policy spokesperson, Louka Katseli, caused surprise yesterday when she suggested that some DEKO should be shut down. «If some of these firms, which have nothing to offer, have no reason for existing, we could close them and then see what needs to be done,» she said. The comment was immediately played down by the party’s spokesman Giorgos Papaconstantinou, who said that closing a public enterprise was «the logic of New Democracy,» not PASOK. Nor is the bill’s passage likely to signal the start of a period of harmony in ND. Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis held a dinner for conservative MPs sitting in the current parliamentary session but the government’s fiercest internal critics, MPs Vyron Polydoras and Petros Tatoulis were conspicuous in their absence from the event. Tatoulis has been engaged in a running verbal battle with Alogoskoufis over comments that he has posted on blogs criticizing the government.