Unions oppose contract bypass

An impasse is looming between the government and the General Confederation of Greek Labor (GSEE), the country’s private sector umbrella union, over the issue of allowing struggling businesses to bypass the collective contracts that apply to various sectors of the economy. The European Union and the International Monetary Fund have asked Greece as part of its emergency loan memorandum to pass legislation that would allow firms in sectors where employees are covered by collective contracts to reduce workers’ wages by reaching individual agreements with them. According to the draft law being prepared by the Labor Ministry, businesses that meet certain financial criteria would be allowed to offer their employees new, individual contracts with an annual pay cut of 10 to 12 percent. It is possible that this will be accompanied by a commitment not to fire any workers for a given period of time. GSEE is opposed to the bill because it fears that it will be used as a method for canceling collective contracts, which provide for minimum wages in various sectors and set guidelines for severance pay, for good. However, the union, which represents some 2 million workers, has indicated it is willing to compromise if the government allows collective contracts to apply in sectors of the economy where they do not currently exist. The government has not been able to commit to this because the EU-IMF memorandum stipulates that the system of collective contracts should not be extended while Greece is receiving loans from its lenders. The unions received backing yesterday from the leader of the Democratic Left, Fotis Kouvelis, who accused the government of «flattening workers’ rights.» With the bill having to be ready by next week, it seems unlikely that unionists and government officials will be able to reach a compromise.

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