Greece: new labour law a full-frontal attack on the working class

Last August, the Minister of Labour Adonis Georgiadis outlined the New Democracy government's new bill on labour and insurance issues, which will shred the most fundamental remaining protections for workers. In the words of the minister himself: “our goal is to make working relations more honest between us [i.e., workers and the bosses]”, explaining that much of what the bill codifies is already happening, informally. He put his intentions explicitly: to give intensifying exploitation of the working class full weight of the law.

[Originally published in Greek at]

The new ‘Georgiadis bill’, which will integrate the European Union directive 2019/1152 into Greek legislation, will further degrade the position of workers, continuing from the anti-labor "Hatzidakis law" of 2021. One of the most aggressive provisions of the bill is the "possibility" to work more than eight hours in a day, directly undermining the historical conquest of the eight-hour working day. In particular, it will become legal for the same employee to work up to 13 hours a day, through the conclusion of a contract with two (or more) employers, with the eight hour shift being a maximum limit only for each individual contract.

Undermining the eight-hour day

The minister presented as a "concession" the maintenance of the current provision for a minimum daily rest of 11 consecutive hours. This backtrack might have come after he realised that working two separate eight-hour shifts, for a total of 16 hours, conflicts with European legislation on minimum rest for workers. Thus, he tried to turn the stipulated minimum rest of 11 continuous hours into some kind of limit on the working day.

Georgiadis even defiantly portrayed the abolition of the eight-hour shift as the creation of a new "choice" for workers, which will bring "perks" such as higher overall wages and a larger pension. As if this constitutes an argument against overwork protection. In the short term, this new labour regime, combined with galloping inflation, will depress real wages, tending to turn the 13-hour rather than the eight-hour shift into the basic requirement for subsistence.

The real motivations for this harsh anti-labour regulation become apparent from Georgiadis's answer to the question of whether two contracts (e.g. eight plus five hours of work per day) could be entered into with the same employer. He said this will not be allowed as, in this case, working beyond eight hours constitutes overtime.

With the current maximum working day of eight hours, even for multiple employers, every working hour beyond eight would constitute overtime, since it would exceed the stipulated shift duration of one of the contracts. So at least one employer would have to pay up. Now, with the provision for up to 13 hours of work per day, the capitalist class will be able to employ each worker for an additional five hours, even after they already put in an eight-hour shift, without having to pay overtime. The worker, by contrast, is burdened with the cost and commuting time of travelling from one job to another.

In addition, employers will be able to create two or more identical or similar businesses and will be able to "split" workers between them, arranging their schedules in order to avoid overtime payments and labour inspection checks. The same can happen in groups of companies, or different contractors that have undertaken outsourcing for large companies.

‘Innovative’ exploitation

Georgiadis was quick to present one more important "innovation" in the bill: so-called zero-hours contracts – a model that has been applied in Britain for years, but prohibited in Greece, since the terms of a contract must include minimum working hours according to current legislation.

‘Zero-hours contracts’ would legalise the hiring of workers by employers, without any commitment to specific working days and hours. Under this regime, employers will be able to employ workers whenever, wherever and however they want, with a simple 24-hour notice. These workers would be paid based only on the number of hours worked, without being entitled to additional pay for overtime, night work, or work on Sundays and public holidays. What the bourgeoisie cynically call "flexibility” constitutes a regime of total precarity for workers, both in terms of their monthly pay, place of work, and paid vacation days.

Of course, the EU Directive, which includes some protective provisions for workers on such contracts, expressly states that it is not permitted for a member state, which does not provide for such contracts in its legislation, to introduce them on the occasion of the incorporation of the Directive. So when it realised there was a possibility of an EU fine, the government avoided inserting this provision in the bill it put out for consultation. However, despite being thwarted on this occasion, it is clear that it is an arrangement they want to introduce at the first opportunity.

The provision for the "trial period" of six months after hiring an employee represents another move towards precarious work. Georgiadis himself admits that this regulation does not "touch" the employer's non-obligation to pay severance pay to a newly hired employee if he is fired before the completion of 12 months. However, in addition, the "officialisation" of these first six months as a "trial" gives the capitalists an alibi to introduce all kinds of unfavourable conditions to the detriment of the newly hired workers.

AG speech Image Άδωνις Γεωργιάδης TwitterAdonis Georgiadis could not bring a labour bill without launching new attacks on the right to strike / Image: Άδωνις Γεωργιάδης, Twitter

In particular, the bill states that, after the trial period, the employee "may submit a request for the amendment of his contract, in order to be employed from now on with more predictable and secure working conditions". Thus, employers who are able to provide pay and working conditions that match the industry standard will in fact only do so once an employee has completed an 'apprenticeship' period, during which they will also receive an 'apprenticeship' wage. It is certain that companies will choose, at least for a part of their workforce, to hire low-wage "probationers" for six months and then fire them without compensation to hire others, and so on.

Furthermore, with Article 28 ("Possibility of an agreement on the arrangement of working time between the employer and the employee"), the arrangement in the "Hatzidakis law" for working time becomes even worse. With the old legislation, there was the provision for individual arrangement of a working schedule with a written agreement between the employer and the employee, at the latter’s request. Prior, it could only be done with a collective agreement. With the new regulation, the "employee's request" is abolished. Thus, the initiative can now formally be taken by the employer (who already had it effectively) to force the employee to accept unpaid overtime.

With Articles 25 and 26, the bill also expands the six-day working week to more sectors, and reduces the formal conditions employers must meet to justify an additional working day. The expectation of a five-day working week is therefore being gradually eroded, with the obvious prospect that the sixth-day surcharge will be reduced or even eliminated.

Finally, Article 27 increases the sectors for which Sundays and holidays are considered working days. In fact, almost all the sectors added (the food industry, water bottling, soft drinks production) were not included in the original form of the bill, but were introduced after the relevant demands of the respective capitalist associations during the government consultation.

New attack on the right to strike

As a servant of the Greek ruling class, Adonis Georgiadis could not bring a labour bill without launching new attacks on the right to strike. Successive previous laws have made it increasingly difficult to call strikes. The new bill now makes “psychological violence" and occupying a workplace criminal offences, with long-term prison sentences attached. The obvious intention is to illegalise the basic collective measures to maintain disciplined unity amongst a striking workforce, and defend strikes and pickets from scabs and the bosses’ goons.

All the attacks in the Georgiadis bill, in addition to confirming the reactionary character of the New Democracy government, testify to the impasse of Greek capitalism, amidst a crisis of world capitalism. Immersed in the worsening contradictions of its rotten system, the ruling class is increasingly driven to feed on the flesh of the entire society, seeking to magnify its untold accumulated wealth by ever-more harshly exploiting and oppressing the majority.

Increasingly brutal attacks on the working masses are a fundamental feature of capitalism in its current phase of advanced decay. The labour movement and the youth must fight unitedly and decisively against the reactionary Georgiadis bill and the Mitsotakis government as a whole. Only serious class struggle can reverse these new assaults and defend against further erosion of workers’ hard-won rights.

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