Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law provides for the right of workers, with the exception of members of the military services, to form and join independent unions, conduct their activities without interference, and strike. Armed forces personnel have the right to form unions but not to strike. Police have the right to organize and demonstrate but not to strike.
The law does not allow trade unions in enterprises with fewer than 20 workers and places restrictions on labor arbitration mechanisms. The law also generally protects the right to bargain collectively but restricts that right for persons under the age of 25. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and requires reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. The law allows company-level agreements to take precedence over sector-level collective agreements in the private sector. Civil servants negotiate and conclude collective agreements with the government on all matters except salaries.
Only the trade unions may call strikes. A strike may be considered unlawful if certain conditions and procedures are not observed, but also in the light of the proportionality principle, which enables courts to decide in each case whether the anticipated benefit from the strike is greater than the economic damage to the employer.
There are some legal restrictions on strikes, including a mandatory four-day notification requirement for public utility and transportation workers and a 24-hour notification requirement for private-sector workers. The law mandates minimum staff levels during strikes affecting public services. The law also gives authorities the right to commandeer services in national emergencies through civil mobilization orders. Anyone receiving a civil mobilization order is obliged to comply or face a prison sentence of at least three months. The law exempts individuals with a documented physical or mental disability from civil mobilization. The law explicitly prohibits the issuance of civil mobilization orders as a means of countering strike actions before or after their proclamation. The government passed legislation on January 17 requiring at least half of the members of a first-level union to endorse a strike for it to be held. Previously, only a third of members were required to vote for a strike for it to be held.
The government generally protected the rights of freedom of association and collective bargaining and effectively enforced applicable laws. Penalties for violations of laws on freedom of association and collective bargaining, which provide for fines of 3,000 euros ($3,450) and minimum three-month prison sentences, reportedly were insufficient to deter violations in all cases. Courts may declare a strike illegal for reasons including failure to respect internal authorization processes and secure minimum staff levels, failure to give adequate advance notice of the strike, and introduction of new demands during the course of the strike. Unions complained that this deterred some members from participating in strikes. Administrative and judicial procedures to resolve labor problems were generally subject to lengthy delays and appeals. On February 2, media reported on a court decision removing a company’s union from the official registry. The court found that six of the 24 employees who had signed the union’s founding declaration were not on the payroll at the time the union was officially registered. Employees argued that the company was purposely hiring staff on a seasonal basis in order to exercise pressure and restrict their labor rights.
There were reports of antiunion discrimination. On January 26, media reported that an employee at a Thessaloniki airport business was allegedly fired for participating in a January 12 strike. Media also reported that the Board of the General Mining and Metallurgical Company (LARCO) suspended employees who participated in the January 12 strike from work for a week. Employees claimed that employers explicitly told them that they were punished for striking.
On April 25, the Union of Journalists suspended membership of 10 journalists working for “SKAI” media because they did not take part in a strike conducted on October 24 and 25. The suspensions ranged from six months to one year.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor and provides additional protections for children, limiting their work hours and their work under certain conditions. Although several government entities, including the police antitrafficking unit, worked to prevent and eliminate labor trafficking, there were reports of forced labor of women, children, and men, mostly in the agricultural sector. Forced begging (also see section 7.c.) mostly occurred in metropolitan areas and populous islands, focusing on popular metro stations, squares, and meeting places. Penalties for violations included more than 10 years in prison and fines of up to 100,000 euros ($115,000) but were not sufficient to deter violations.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. The minimum age for employment in the industrial sector is 15, with higher limits for some activities. The minimum age is 12 in family businesses, theaters, and cinemas. A presidential decree permits children who are 15 or older to engage in hazardous work in certain circumstances, such as when it is necessary as part of vocational or professional training; in this case a worker should be monitored by a safety technician or a medical doctor. Hazardous work includes work that exposes workers to toxic and cancer-producing elements, radiation, and similar conditions.
The Labor Inspectorate is responsible for enforcing child labor laws, with penalties for violators ranging from fines to imprisonment. Information is not available on whether the penalties were sufficient to deter violations. Employers generally observed child labor laws in the formal economy. Trade unions, however, alleged that enforcement was inadequate due to the inspectorate’s understaffing, and that the government did not adequately protect exploited children. On June 14, a researcher affiliated with the General Confederation of Greek Workers (GSEE) think tank reported 39,000 officially employed minors, 1,700 of which were migrants and refugees. The report found that the legislative framework punishing labor exploitation was adequate in terms of sufficient penalties, but prosecutors made no effort to identify when and where violations occurred.
Child labor was a problem in the informal economy. Younger family members often assisted families in agriculture, food service, and merchandising on at least a part-time basis. Family members compelled some children to beg, pick pockets, or sell merchandise on the street, or trafficked them for the same purposes. The government and NGOs reported the majority of such beggars were indigenous Roma or Bulgarian, Romanian, or Albanian Roma. There were reports that unaccompanied migrant children were particularly vulnerable to labor exploitation and worked mainly in the agricultural and, to a lesser extent, manufacturing sectors. On June 11, NGO ARSIS reported there were approximately 300 minors selling small items or begging on street corners in Thessaloniki.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment and occupation based on race, religion, national origin, color, sex (including pregnancy), ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV/AIDS status, or refugee or stateless status.
The government did not always effectively enforce these laws and regulations. Penalties provided by law were not sufficient to deter violators. Penalties included prison sentences up to three years and fines up to 5,000 euros ($5,750). Discrimination with respect to employment and occupation based on race, sex (including pregnancy), disability, sexual orientation, and gender identity occurred. There was discrimination against migrant workers (see section 7.e.).
On June 29, media reported that a store allegedly fired an employee after 10 years of service because she was suffering from multiple sclerosis. On April 24, a union of employees denounced “the unlawful and abusive dismissal” of a pregnant woman who was working at a pastry shop. The employee claimed the employer was treating her as “sick,” using derogatory language, and changing her responsibilities to encourage her to resign. The employee filed three complaints with the Labor Inspectorate about the employer’s behavior and her dismissal. On January 30, media reported that a first instance court in Piraeus ruled that the burden for proving a dismissal’s lawfulness fell on the employers and employees need not prove it unlawful, noting that there should be a well-grounded reason linked with the employee’s behavior or ability or the operational needs of the business.
In its 2017 report on equal treatment, the ombudsman found that pregnancy and maternity tend to consistently place working women at a disadvantage, as their absence from work for those reasons generally results in negative consequences for their employment rights, despite the increased legal protection provided to them for these particular periods of their lives. The ombudsman also noted women working in high-ranking jobs who return to their positions following maternity leave should legally return to the same job or an equivalent one. In practice, however, women often found themselves demoted when they returned to work.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The national minimum wage in the private sector for unspecialized workers age 25 or older was 26.18 euros ($30.11) per day and for workers below 25 years of age, 84 percent of that amount, or 22.83 euros ($26.25) per day. These wages were above the poverty income level. The government did not always enforce wage laws effectively, and penalties were not always sufficient to deter violations.
The maximum legal workweek is 40 hours. The law provides for at least one 24-hour rest period per week, mandates paid vacation of one month per year, and sets limits on the amount of overtime work which, based on conditions, may exceed eight hours in a week. The law regarding overtime work requires premium pay, and employers must submit information to the Ministry of Labor for authorization. Premium pay ranged from 20 to 80 percent of the daily wage, based on the total number of extra hours and the day (Sundays, holidays, etc.), and whether it was night service. Employers also provided compensatory time off. These provisions were not always effectively enforced in all sectors, particularly in tourism, catering services, retail businesses, agriculture, the informal economy, or for domestic or migrant workers.
Wage laws were not always enforced. Unions and media alleged that some private businesses were forcing their employees to return part of their wages and mandatory seasonal bonuses, in cash, after depositing them in the bank. On January 19, media reported the arrest of an employer caught asking his employee to return his Christmas bonus. On January 9, two employees in Larissa claimed they were dismissed because they refused to return their Christmas bonuses. Other employees were forced to falsely declare and sign that they had received their bonuses, although they had not. Several employees were officially registered as part-timers but in essence worked additional hours without being paid. Overtime work was not always registered officially and paid accordingly. In other cases employees were paid after months of delay and oftentimes with coupons and not in cash. Cases of employment for up to 30 consecutive days of work without weekends off were also reported. Such violations were mostly noted in the tourism, agriculture, and housekeeping services sectors.
The law provides for minimum standards of occupational health and safety, setting the responsibility for identifying unsafe situations on occupational safety and health experts and not the workers. Workers have the right to file a confidential complaint with the labor inspectorate regarding hazardous working conditions and to remove themselves from such situations without jeopardizing their employment. Owners who repeatedly violate the law concerning undeclared work or safety could face temporary closure of their businesses. Under the same law, employers were obliged to declare in advance their employees’ overtime work or changes in their work schedules. The legislation also provided for social and welfare benefits to be granted to surrogate mothers, including protection from dismissal during pregnancy and after childbirth. Courts were required to examine complaints filed by employees against their employers for delayed payment within two months after their filing, and to issue decisions within 30 days after the hearing.
On January 19, media reported that a Greek member of the European Parliament (MEP) reported to the European Commission that labor accidents in Greece had increased 10 percent since 2010, according to statistics from the Hellenic Federation of Associations of Labor Inspectorates. The MEP said that the actual number was higher as many such accidents were going unreported.
The Labor Inspectorate is responsible for enforcement of labor legislation. The Ministry of Labor is responsible for all concerns regarding occupational safety and health at the national level. The Directorate of Security and Health in Labor, under the General Directorate for Labor and Labor Inclusion, and the Labor Inspectorate are the principal competent government authorities. The inspectorate’s mandate includes the private and public sectors, except for domestic employment, mining, and marine shipping (which fall under the Ministry of Economy, Development, and Tourism and the Ministry of Maritime and Island Policy). Labor experts characterized health and safety laws as satisfactory but stated that enforcement by the Labor Inspectorate was inadequate.
The number of inspectors authorized to conduct labor inspections reportedly exceeded 1,000, including labor inspectorate personnel and staff of the Ministry of Labor, Social Security, and Social Solidarity, the Social Insurance Fund, the Economic Crimes Division of the police, and the independent Authority for Public Revenue. Despite government efforts to increase inspections for undeclared, under-declared, and unpaid work, trade unions and media alleged that enforcement of labor standards was inadequate in the shipping, tourism, and agricultural sectors. Enforcement was also lacking among enterprises employing 10 or fewer persons. According to a survey carried out for the General Confederation of Greek Workers (GSEE), nine in 10 employees in the private sector faced worsening labor conditions in the years of the debt crisis. Private sector workers seem to be suffering more than public servants as the percentage of wage earners with net monthly wages in the private sector dropped at a higher rate than the public sector within the past nine years.
Businesses found hiring undeclared employees were closed by the authorities for a few days and if repeatedly found violating the law the business could be permanently closed. Employers who hire undeclared employees can face fines up to 10,500 euros ($12,075) for each undeclared employee. A new law passed on July 18 imposes double fines on employers for repeat offenses within three years and triple fines for subsequent offenses. Employers can receive discounts on fines by hiring the undeclared staff on a long-term, full-time basis within 10 days of the fine’s imposition. In 2017 the Ministry of Labor conducted inspections of 36,683 businesses in all sectors of the economy. Of these businesses, 5,357 were employing a total of 8,335 undeclared staff. Authorities imposed fines amounting to 88.1 million euros ($101 million).
On July 16, the minister of labor signed a decision to provide freelance and self-employed individuals (lawyers, engineers, doctors) with certain unemployment benefits with conditions. The benefit can be up to 360 euros ($414) per month and payable for a period of three to nine months.
On July 18, the government also passed legislation holding contractors, sub-contractors, and those commissioning work equally responsible during the completion of work, enabling employees to demand payment, social insurance contributions, or other claims.