Sunday

17th Feb 2019

Opinion

Lenders seek to undermine Greek workers' rights

  • Workers' rights are being threatened in Greece. (Photo: Chris Goldberg/Flickr)

In the current negotiations over a new loan package for Greece, collective bargaining and workers’ rights have been put under the spotlight.

Both the European Commission and International Monetary Fund (IMF) have made it clear that the reforms in recent years should not be undone.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • Many decisions by the IMF have been seen as problematic in Greece. (Photo: Denis Bocquet)

The IMF in particular is calling for further reforms that would reduce trade union and workers’ rights.

A report was published last September by an expert group on labour market institutions, which was set up by the lending institutions (European Commission, European Central Bank, European Stability Mechanism, International Monetary Fund) and the Greek government.

The report is being directly ignored or misinterpreted, while the Commission and IMF claim they are merely calling for changes in order to bring Greece in line with international best practices.

Greek workers and their unions should be the judge of that, but are not being allowed a say on the matter.

Strike action

The IMF is explicit in calling for changes to strike rules.

In its latest country report on Greece, it argues that the legislation on industrial action has not been altered since the 1980s and that this “could explain the large number of strikes in Greece, which even prior to the crisis far exceeded levels seen elsewhere.”

The report also goes on to state that the ban on lockouts should be lifted.

It is not self-evident that the lack of reforms since the 1980s should justify changes today and the IMF’s statistics do not support this argument.

The data is on general strikes and not on industrial action in the context of disputes in the workplace or at sectoral level. There are no statistics on strike action in Greece at these levels.

Furthermore, the figures for Greece in the chart on page 30 are for one year only, 2002, and do not represent an average for the period of 2002 to 2007. This is misleading and sloppy work.

The IMF position also flies in the face of the first two recommendations from the previously mentioned expert group.

The first recommendation is that there is no need for changes to strike rules and the second sees no need to end the ban on lock-outs. It notes particularly that: “The provisions on industrial conflict in Greece have established a balance of power between employers and unions; its rules are accepted by both sides.”

Collective bargaining

The key issues in the reforms demanded by the IMF and the Eurogroup in regard to bargaining are the extension and hierarchy of collective agreements.

Extension concerns the extent to which sector collective agreements are applicable to all workers in the sector.

The hierarchy refers to whether locally negotiated collective agreements can include provisions that are worse than those specified in the sector agreement.

Earlier reforms implemented at the behest of international creditors have suspended extensions and turned the normal collective agreement hierarchy on its head. Further changes have allowed non-trade union “associations” to sign agreements with employers.

It is not clear what best practices the IMF and European Commission are following to justify favouring local collective agreements over sector-level agreements.

In our opinion, the best practice would be for the unions, employers and governments to judge the situation. It is not a matter for the European Commission or the IMF to decide on behalf of workers.

Speaking recently at the European Parliament, commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis said: “The suspension of the legal extensions of sectoral agreements and the favourability principle does not mean that collective bargaining has disappeared from Greece.”

In a strict sense he is right, but collective bargaining has been significantly weakened, nevertheless. It is now being carried out under the favourability rule, which is the exact opposite of best international practices.

The majority in the expert group clearly indicated that Greece experienced “fragmentation and destabilisation of the system of collective bargaining and an increase of inequality and poverty.” Furthermore, they also showed concern that “the erosion of collective bargaining with all its negative consequences on wages will continue if the regulatory framework remains as it is.”

The group went on to set out a clear position in support of sector bargaining and general applicability of agreements with 10 cogent reasons for the economic and social benefits of this kind of system. These ranged from creating a level playing field for companies to fairer pay and social protection for vulnerable workers.

Why is the IMF ignoring this?

Jan Willem Goudriaan is the General Secretary of the European Public Service Union (EPSU)

Greece and creditors break bailout deadlock

Athens agreed on budget cuts worth up to €3.6 billion and extracted some concessions from creditors, but the IMF warned the package might not be enough.

Creditors put more pressure on Greece

Eurozone finance ministers demand the Greek government adopt new austerity measures for the future or risk the end of the bailout programme.

Agenda

EU-27 to back integration This WEEK

EU leaders meet in Rome to recommit to European integration after Brexit, but Greece and Poland serve as reminders of economic and political divisions.

Could Finnish presidency fix labour-chain abuse?

There can be no more excuses for business. They will be held for responsible for their failure to take action to prevent the risk of human and labour rights through their supply chains.

News in Brief

  1. Spain's Sanchez calls snap election on 28 April
  2. 15,000 Belgian school kids march against climate change
  3. May suffers fresh Brexit defeat in parliament
  4. Warning for British banks over Brexit staff relocation
  5. Former Italian PM wants Merkel for top EU post
  6. Antisemitic incidents up 10% in Germany
  7. Italy's asylum rejection rate at record high
  8. Hungary will not claim EU funds for fraudulent project

What does Poland want from the EU?

We propose several changes to the EU, derived from the political philosophy behind the current Polish government, and what Poles expect from the EU - this could be seen as a manifesto Poland wants the next European Commission to tackle.

Migration and May elections - time to get facts right

If misinformation in the field of migration can bring a government down, as in the recent case of Belgium following the country's adoption of the UN migration pact, then it can doubtless produce a populist majority in the European parliament.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  2. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  4. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  6. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  7. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”

Latest News

  1. Sluggish procedure against Hungary back on table
  2. Could Finnish presidency fix labour-chain abuse?
  3. Brexit and trip to Egypt for Arab League This WEEK
  4. Belgian spy scandal puts EU and Nato at risk
  5. EU Parliament demands Saudi lobby transparency
  6. Saudi Arabia, but not Russia, on EU 'dirty money' list
  7. EU agrees draft copyright reform, riling tech giants
  8. Rutte warns EU to embrace 'Realpolitik' foreign policy

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs
  8. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  9. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  11. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  12. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us