Labor reform in Greece

27 June, 2021

Demonstration against the labor reform in Greece
Demonstration against the labor reform in Greece

On June 16, the Greek Parliament passed a bill that allows and legalizesthe ten-hour workday. The new labor reform in Greece also introduces a digital work card in order to monitor employees in real time Spanish-style, as well as increasing the maximum overtime to 150 hours per year. In addition, the new law aims to impose new minimum services in public services in case of strike and sanctions in case of service interruption.

Table of Contents

Government, left and unions for the “flexibilization” of labor

June 11, 2011. Unions call for mobilizations against austerity and Brussels while implementing together with the government the first labor reform in Greece
June 11, 2011. Unions call for mobilizations against austerity and Brussels while implementing together with the government the first labor reform in Greece

The ruling party, Mitsotakis’ New Democracy, proclaims that labor reform in Greece upholds the freedom of the worker tochoosewhether to work more than eight hours a day in order to then gain more days off. That is, the freedomto have a working day of ten hours a day for four days a week.

The opposition and unions answer the obvious: the law abolishes the eight-hour workday, opens the door for companies to force workers to work longer hours each day and, by not counting the ninth and tenth hours a day as overtime, will allow them to be paid less than they would have been until now. They also say that the work flexibility agreements not only force workers to work longer hours, but lead to a reduction overall in the workday for many workers as it is part of an effort to get a higher proportion of part-time workers.

One of the parties expressing opposition to the bill is the Movement for Change (KINAL), within the long-standing PASOK (Panhellenic Socialist Movement) party. The same party which imposed austerity from 2009 to 2012. We all remember those years: brutal VAT hikes, minimum wage cut, pension freeze, runaway increase in precariousness…. PASOK was then the champion of the flexibilization of labor and the vanguard of the labor reform in Greece.

In fact, in 2011 it passed a law allowing to fix in collective bargaining agreement that in the case of in periods of high workload the 10-hour workday would be instituted. Moreover, companies could even go beyond 40 hours per week by distributing 256 hours/person per year according to production needs. In other words, the abolition of the eight-hour working day had already occurred under PASOK… the difference is that the 2011 law allowed extending the working day up to 10 hours only in large collective agreements of large companies not in sectoral agreements covering the vast majority of SMEs.

What did the unions do in 2011? They adduced that the government was only executing what was imposed on it from Brussels, redirecting anger into crass nationalism and calling strikes against austerity devoid of real content in order to relieve pressure, doing their bit to pin workers’ hopes on a change of government. …whose results with SYRIZA (short for Coalition of the Radical Left) were as notorious as they were predictable.

SYRIZA, which also criticizes the new law, not only maintained Law 3986/2011 during its administration… but passed law 4498/2017, which stated that healthcare workers could be forced to work up to 12 hours and that even this working day could be extended up to 12 hours more if necessary from the point of view of continuity of healthcare. Tsipras’ party is now defending itself by saying that it never applied it in a specific case

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But the left knows all too well that the worsening of exploitation conditions in big business and management sets the tone for the situation in medium and small businesses. To survive the competition, the petty bourgeoisie needs to exploit more in absolute terms in order to compensate for its lower availability of capital. To give way to an exceptional situation in the big ones and expect it not to transform all working conditions is a pipe dream.

In fact, both Syriza and Pasok, support the flexibilization of labor tutored by the unions. They do not oppose the imposition of the 10-hour workday where it is not regulated to the contrary by sectoral agreement…. provided that the legal representatives of the worker… i.e. the unionss are consulted. Put another way, what worries the left about labor reform in Greece is not what it means for workers, but that it displaces the unions as co-managers of the exploitation of the workforce.

Labor reform in Greece and the nationalist poison

Union rally in front of parliament against labor reform in Greece
Union rally in front of parliament against labor reform in Greece

On the other hand, the peculiar Greek electoral system, which gives fifty extra deputies to the winning party, making post-election coalitions unnecessary, allows in the current labor reform only the ruling party to have to get its hands dirty.

Meanwhile, the EU hails labor reform in Greece as a major step forward for Greece’s progress and productivity. In a country with endemic unemployment figures only comparable to Spain, New Democracy presents the law as a means to reduce unemployment and therefore as a matter of social justice; they remark that it introduces for the first time a 14-day paternity leave and that the digital work card will serve to protect workers from being forced to work overtime without compensation. The same thing Sánchez said in Spain and most likely with the same result: the breaks will end up outside of the contribution, hourly record and salary.

But labor reform in Greece is mostly geared toward making labor cheaper. It is about having as much labor available as possible, paying as little overtime as possible and freely using part-time contracts. In a word: the government is once again stepping on the accelerator of precarization in order to give extra oxygen to national capital. They seek to extend the effects of the Pasok law of 2011, when flexibility was established in collective bargaining contracts.

In 2012, there was an 18.42% decrease in full-time employment contracts compared to 2011, and a 3.61% increase in part-time employment contracts. New hires with part-time and rotational work contracts accounted for 45% of all new contracts.

Greece: Working time flexibility. Eurofound.

Labor reform in Greece has nothing to do with any supposed worker freedom which only exists in the mists of commodity religion. The government has no other goal than to revive national capital… just like the EU and the conditionality of the recovery funds. And just like the left and trade unions which barely called for a day of empty parades… they self-sabotaged it by calling it off for teachers and public transport drivers with the excuse of providing a service to the students who were taking their university entrance exams that day.

Nothing can be expected from one or the other. An integral part of state capitalism and the monopolistic management of the labor power, they can have no other message than the nationalist one i.e., prioritizing the needs of national capital as if it were the common good. But the needs of capital to revalorize itself and accumulate are increasingly and violently antagonistic to universal human needs. We see it every day in the evolution of our living conditions, in our work and even in the management of the pandemic.

On the assertion of universal human needs, which lies at the root of all their class expressions, workers cannot count on trade unions or left-wing parties. Neither in Greece nor anywhere else.