By S. Papapetros
Labor sector liberalization continues to constitute one of the biggest obstacles in concluding the now year-long delayed second review of the Greek program, with the IMF the most demanding of the creditors in negotiations with Athens.
Indicative of the Fund's strict stance is its insistence on abolishing any legal obstacles to an employer's use of a "lock out" in conflicts with a work force, something that has very rarely ever been brought up over the years in Greece's labor sector.
The first time creditors, primarily the IMF, brought up the issue of a legal lock-out was during the first full-blown year of the current economic implosion in Greece, namely, in 2010, the first year that a bailout was agreed to, in fact. The same demand has never been removed from the negotiation table, reports state.
At present, and with the latest "unofficial deadline" (Monday, March 20) for a conclusion of the review going by the wayside, the four major differences vis-a-vis the labor sector separating the two sides include:
-- Mass layoffs. The IMF continues to press for an abolition of the relevant labor minister's right to sign-off on mass layoffs.
-- Collective bargaining negotiations. The embattled Tsipras government wants the restoration of obligatory negotiations between employers' groups and unions for sector-wide contracts, something that creditors (especially the IMF) sternly oppose during the ongoing economic crisis. As of 2011, business-wide work contracts have overcome sector-wide contracts, something that the Fund considers as one of the most important reforms implemented in Greece during the bailout years.
-- Unions' legal framework. The IMF continues to press for a majority vote (50 percent +1) by workers / employees in order to approve whatever industrial actions, whereas the current law allows for an impromptu vote (with a show of hands, for instance) by those present at an extraordinary general assembly of workers. Creditors also want to roll back the privileges allocated to elected unionists.
-- Finally, the issue of a lock-out. Greece remains in the category of western countries that legally prohibit the use of a "lock-out" by employers. The IMF is pressing for liberalization of the legal framework to allow even for "aggressive lock-outs", something the Greek side charges does not exist in any developed country. A "defensive" lock-out exists in some countries (Germany, Belgium, UK and Spain, among others) but only under very strict conditions.