Thursday

30th Mar 2017

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.

  • 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.

Analysis

Lukashenka: End of an era?

The political spring in Belarus ended just as the actual season began, but greater changes loom after 23 years of dictatorship.

Analysis

Lukashenka: End of an era?

The political spring in Belarus ended just as the actual season began, but greater changes loom after 23 years of dictatorship.

News in Brief

  1. Coalition talks leader expects Dutch government by summer
  2. EU commission allows ex-member Hill to join law firm
  3. Reuters: Greece and lenders move closer to deal
  4. Italy: Le Pen win would mean 'permanent political risk'
  5. Danish parliament misinformed on Nord Stream 1
  6. UK delivered its Article 50 letter to the EU
  7. Support for Germany's anti-EU party fading
  8. Turkish intelligence not welcome in Germany

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. The Idealist QuarterlyCan Progressive Stories Survive Our Post-Truth Era? After-Work Discussion on 6 April
  2. ACCAG20 Citizens Want 'Big Picture' Tax Policymaking, According to Global Survey
  3. Belgrade Security ForumCall for Papers: European Union as a Global Crisis Manager - Deadline 30 April
  4. European Gaming & Betting Association60 Years Rome Treaty – 60 Years Building an Internal Market
  5. Malta EU 2017New EU Rules to Prevent Terrorism and Give More Rights to Victims Approved
  6. European Jewish Congress"Extremists Still Have Ability and Motivation to Murder in Europe" Says EJC President
  7. European Gaming & Betting AssociationAudiovisual Media Services Directive to Exclude Minors from Gambling Ads
  8. ILGA-EuropeTime for a Reality Check on International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
  9. UNICEFHuman Cost to Refugee and Migrant Children Mounts Up One Year After EU-Turkey Deal
  10. Malta EU 2017Council Adopts New Rules to Improve Safety of Medical Devices
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Energy Research: How to Reach 100 Percent Renewable Energy
  12. Party of European SocialistsWe Must Renew Europe for All Europeans

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. MEP Tomáš ZdechovskýThe European Commission Has Failed in Its Fight Against Food Waste
  2. ILGA-EuropeEP Recognises Discrimination Faced by Trans & Intersex People
  3. Nordic Council of Ministers25 Nordic Bioeconomy Cases for Sustainable Change
  4. European Free AllianceSupporting Artur Mas: Democracy and Freedom Cannot Be Convicted
  5. UNICEFSyria Conflict 6 Years On: Children's Suffering at Its Worst
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsDomestic Violence in Tajikistan: Time to Right the Wrongs
  7. European Trust SummitCorporate Strategy and Public Affairs in a Low-Trust World - Conference 31 May
  8. Malta EU 2017Agreement Reached to Involve Consumers in Financial Services Policymaking
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Cities Gather Against Violent Extremism & Introduce Nordic Safe Cities
  10. World VisionFears and Dreams of Syria's Children and Their Peers Around the World
  11. Malta EU 2017Maltese Presidency and EP Agree on Visa Liberalisation for Ukraine
  12. Mission of China to the EUEU Window Chinese Government Academic Scholarship 2017/18 - Apply Now