By S. Papapetros
Four sector-wide collective bargaining agreements, reportedly affecting roughly 75,000 wage-earners in the private sector, have now become law and must be implemented by relevant employers, after the signing on Monday of a decision by the labor and social insurance minister - a development that marks the first, albeit timid, roll-back of labor market reforms taken in the memorandum era.
In a move long touted by the leftist-rightist coalition government, Minister Efi Achtsioglou signed the decision to make the four collective bargaining agreements obligatory in the sectors of banking, maritime shipping agencies and firms, travel agencies and all businesses that are members of the International Maritime Union, a Piraeus-based organization that represents liner shipping agencies and cruise ships agents operating at the specific port.
Under the current law, a sector-wide collective bargaining agreement that has been signed by employers who employ 51 percent or more of all the wage-earners registered in the specific sector can be declared mandatory for the entire sector, i.e. for employers that employ the remaining 49 percent of wage-earners and did not sign the new agreement.
The specific legal clause gives the relevant labor minister the right to decide on the obligatory nature of such collective bargaining agreements, something that Achtsioglou did on Monday.
However, the body that determines whether a collective bargaining agreement covers 51 percent or more of the workforce in a specific sector is comprised of a majority of members appointed by the government at the time. The Supreme Council for Labor (ASE) includes seven regular members, five of whom are appointed by the government. One member is appointed by employers' groups and the remaining member by the General Confederation of Greek Workers, or GSEE.
In making good on its pledge to begin roll-backing what it considers as austerity-tinged measures that curtailed wage-earners' labor rights during three successive bailouts - 2010 through August 2018 - the relevant ministry is now reviewing all collective bargaining agreements in force to determine whether they can be extended. At the same time all such agreements between unions and employers' groups will also come under the Greek state's review.
Nevertheless, the prospect of reversing labor sector reforms contains the seeds for a clash between the poll-trailing Tsipras government and institutional creditors. The latter consider that liberalization of Greece's often tortuous labor market legal framework contributed to a reduction from punishing official unemployment, which reached 27 percent in 2013, and also reduced operating costs. The "down side" were cuts in official monthly wage scales.
Finally, based on figures released by the labor ministry, since the beginning of the year the vast majority of employer-employees agreements have come at the company level. Specifically, 155 company-wide agreements have been signed in 2018 so far, with only 15 sector-wide agreements, and eight at the regional level.