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Battle Lines Drawn Over New Democracy Labor Reforms Bill

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Greek Labor Ministry. (Photo by Eurokinissi/ Tatiana Bollari)

ATHENS – Despite criticism it will exploit workers, Greece's ruling New Democracy is advancing legislation for reforms the government said will aid them and overhaul 39-year-old laws.

The Conservatives said those measures were far behind the times and needed to be changed but the major rival SYRIZA and others unhappy with the proposed changes said they are backdoor attempts to undermine workers' rights.

Labor Minister Kostis Hatzidakis said the changes would bring overdue changes offering more freedom to decide working hours, prevent unpaid overtime and undeclared work which is part of a massive untaxed underground economy.

“The labor law is antiquated,” Hatzidakis told a news conference, said the Reuters news agency. “The core of the bill goes back to 1982. In 1982 the Internet, let alone teleworking, was a distant dream,” he said.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said the bill was intended to protect workers. “It strengthens their rights…, corrects injustices of the past. In short, it gives power to the employee,” he tweeted.

Opponents though said one measure that would let employees work up to 10 hours on a day and fewer on another or take time off would be unfair to them without explaining how if the workers had flexibility decided by themselves.

Workers would also have the right to refuse to work on off-days or be required while not working to check emails from their employer, similar to lenient labor measures in France and Italy where they have more rights.

There would also be a “digital work card” to monitor employees working hours in real time, as well as increase legal overtime to 150 hours a year, which critics have seized on as a target.

Greece’s main public workers union ADEDY, which staged a 24-hour strike against the bill, said the government really wants to raise the eight-hour working day to 10 hours and scrap the five-day working week and collective bargaining agreements.

As Hatzidakis spoke, dozens of members of the Communist-affiliated trade union PAME protested outside the Labor Ministry and painted “Hands Off the 8-Hour Day” in red on one of its walls, the report added.

PAME called for a demonstration against the bill in central Athens,, its contentions backed by SYRIZA which said the bill restricts employee rights as jobs are being lost during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Leftist leader and former premier Alexis Tsipras accused the government of moving against a worldwide trend to improve workers’ rights, although while the country's leader he didn't raise the minimum wage as promised and held back collective bargaining rights, saying it wasn't his fault.

“(It) is trying to use the pandemic as an opportunity to impose the most anti-popular (measure) a Greek government has ever brought against the world of work: the abolition of the eight-hour working day,” he said.