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“An avalanche of precarious work” in Greece

by Ermal Bubullima

“We must keep to the commitments we have already agreed on, both in terms of finance and reforms.” This was the message given by Eurogroup (eurozone finance ministers) President Jeroen Dijsselbloemn, at the end of yet another meeting of finance ministers to discuss the economic reforms in Greece at the beginning of March.

And yet one of the thorny issues in the talks between Greece’s Syriza-led government and the “institutions” – the European Central Bank (ECB), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Commission – is Athens’ plan to repeal some of the reforms introduced by previous governments.

This includes a series of decrees and laws that have profoundly shaken the world of work, through the abolition, for example, of many national and sectoral collective agreements.

As a result of these reforms, employees’ pay and working conditions in Greece are now widely determined by individual contracts. Moreover, the collective agreements concluded at company level can establish less favourable working conditions than those usually set at other levels – a measure introduced by the Troika and the previous governments to boost competitiveness.

One of the consequences has been the upsurge in employment outsourcing.

This development has been driven by legislation passed by the previous administration doubling the time limit on successive temporary contracts, raising it from 18 to 36 months. (page 20)

In addition, companies are no longer required to establish urgent, temporary or unforeseen needs in order to legalise employment contracts of this kind beyond the limits stipulated.

“Over the last four years, there has been an avalanche of precarious forms of work,” says Thanasis Danousis, deputy general secretary of Geniki Synomospondia Ergaton Ellados (the Greek General Confederation of Labour, or GSEE).

Numerous foreign companies, including global outsourcing giants like Adecco, Manpower and ISS, are now offering their services to a growing number of firms in Greece that are taking advantage of a minimum gross wage knocked down to less than €600 a month.

Exact figures on the number of workers subcontracted in this way are hard to come by, but according to Danousis’ estimates, there are over 100,000.

“It is a direct result of the suppression of collective agreements and the staggering unemployment affecting a quarter of the population.”


Young people, the prime victims

Unemployed 31-year-old Vaggelis Kitsonis was, until recently, working for a telephone service subcontractor, Connect Phone.

Hired in 2013, the young man signed an individual contract with the subcontractor, although he would introduce himself to customers as an employee of Vodafone, whose products he was selling.

After two months, the company forced him to resign so that he could go on to work for a new Connect Phone partner, despite the tasks being just the same as in his previous job.

“I found out through a colleague that this was common practice. It is a way of ensuring that employees have no right to pay increases and cannot demand better wages or claim any severance pay. I worked hard, but the way I was treated was degrading and humiliating. I was forced to do unpaid overtime to reach the sales target set by the company. When they refused to give me holiday pay I didn’t hesitate to react. I was sacked before the protest ‘bug’ could spread to the other workers.”

Numerous attempts by Equal Times to contact Connect Phone were unsuccessful.

“There is a legal void,” explains Panos Skourletis, Employment Minister under the government led by Alexis Tsipras.

“Companies often use subcontractors to circumvent the law and the labour regulations in place. We are going to introduce strict rules that will have to be respected by all, and we are going to forbid these illegal practices.”

“We are going to introduce legislation re-establishing the collective agreements and strengthening the control mechanisms. We are going to do all of this regardless of the negotiations underway,” ensures Skourletis, demonstrating the government’s determination to resuscitate the floundering labour market.


This article has been translated from French.

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