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5. Other Labour Union Activities

Since the early 1990s, social dialogue processes and institutions seem to be the main aspect of other trade-union activities, in addition to collective bargaining functions. The social dialogue between the national level top organisations of employers and workers (SEB, GSEE, GSEBEE, EESE), and the need to adapt to the requirements of European social policy, have given rise to new institutions of bilateral or tripartite cooperation aimed at providing support to the less developed functions of the national system of industrial relations. Such functions concern health and safety at work, along with professional and vocational training and continuing education. The Hellenic Institute for Occupational Health and Safety (ELINYAE) is the first outcome of the aforementioned social dialogue. SEB, GSEBEE, EESE and GSEE had resolved, in the context of the 1991 General National Collective Labour Agreement, to set up an Institute for Occupational Health and Safety with the objective of supporting, scientifically as well as technically, the implementation of policies pertaining to work health, hygiene, and safety.

With regard to developing a training system and financing it so as to meet the training needs, the General National CLA of 1988 social partners (GSEE, SEB,ESEE, GSEBEE) had agreed to a special employer levy, the magnitude of which was increased by the 1993 General National CLA, and is currently operating as an Account for Employment and Professional Training (LAEK). This process of transformation of social policy institutions through the establishment of organisations that are "peripheral", so to speak, vis-a-vis the state, has also been related to the utilisation of funds from the EU Community Support Frameworks (CSF) and especially the European Social Fund (ESF), but also points to a more energetic participation on the part of the national employer and employee organisations in the shaping of social policy and in the development of the weaker functions of the national system of industrial relations. In this area, the initiative is definitely to be credited to leadership of the GSEE, SEB, GSEBEE, ESEE organisations, whereas successive governments are dragging behind, to say the least. The social partners have not only set the fostering of these new institutions (which as a rule operate beyond state control) as a top priority, they have also raised the issue of their own widened participation in the administration of such state organisations as the Organisation for the Employment of the Labour Force (OAED) and the Workers' Housing Organisation (OEK).

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In the course of the '90s, the governmental initiative (initiated by the National Economy Ministry in 1994) for a social dialogue concerning the Finance and Development Bills, was eventually accompanied by the commissionig, by law 2232 of 1994, of the Economic and Social Committee (OKE) as the central institution for social dialogue. The Committee started operating in 1995. Yet the new government initiative (in the Spring of 1997) for a National Social Dialogue on Employment, Competitiveness and Development, a dialogue which was completed near the end of the year, sidestepped OKE and was conducted on an ad hoc basis.

In April 1997 the government, following months of announcements, preparations, and inter-party discussions, assumed the initiative and, by mouth of the prime-minister (through a letter also signed by the Minister of Finance and National Economy and the Minister of Labour and Social Security), invited the main national social partners, namely the employer and employee organisations and the Economic and Social Committee (OKE), to engage in a National Social Dialogue. The letter invited the aforementioned social partners to participate in a social dialogue process concerning a series of 19 thematic units under the general title "Competitiveness, Development, and Employment". The invitation did not include any views, analyses or suggestions; it just referred to concise objectives concerning each thematic unit. The dialogue process was not predetermined but took shape en route. Further, the invitation was addressed to a long list of recipients, about 20 organisations and Chambers in all. The process to be followed was settled through deliberations that took place between the ministries and the various organisations involved. In the end, OKE was excluded from the process and the dialogue was conducted under the supervision of the ministries. The reaction to this initiative was positive to begin with, even though scepticism and criticisms from all round were not lacking. Still, 7 months later, the government sought to bring the dialogue process to an end, since this initiative, despite declarations to the contrary, did not prove to be as successful as expected in the beginning. There was convergence on a handful of issues only, and, on the part of GSEE, most political factions eventually withdrew from the process. ESAK did not take part from the beginning. Autonomous Intervention had set certain preconditions for its participation to begin with, and withdrew en route, while DAKE also withdrew. The government managed to formally salvage its initiative through the signing of a "Pact concerning the government's and the social partners' confidence in the country's course towards the year 2000". It is a lengthy document of 18 pages, where reference is made to various issues, under three headings: "Structural policies for development", "Policies for the fostering of competitiveness and employment", and "The regulation of work and social protection issues". It should be noted that no reference to a

35-hour working week (which was a priority for GSEE) was included in the Pact.

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This Social Dialogue Pact can be viewed as a guide for labour relations policy and legislation. It was signed by SEB and ESEE on the part of employers, but not by GSEBEE; GSEE signed on the part of employees, despite the fact that 22 members of its administration of the time (the ones belonging to the Opposition) voted against the Pact. Out of the 23 members of government-affiliated PASKE, one abstained and 22 voted in favour.

One consequence of the rather difficult expansion of social dialogue practices and the creation of social dialogue institutions is that an important part of the activities of GSEE and labour union representatives is oriented towards participation in the administrative boards of social policy institutions. GSEE representatives participate in the Boards of Directors of such organisations as OAED (Employment policy and unemployment benefits), OEK (Housing), OEE (cultural activities and trade-unions funding), IKA (social security), OMED (mediation and arbitration services, ELINYAE (occupational health and safety), OKE (social dialogue over draft legislation), etc..

In order to better coordinate its activities, GSEE now operates via Secretariats specialising in the following subjects: International Relations, European Affairs, Social Policy, Occupational Health and Safety, Women, Young people, GSEE Pensioners, Peace, Environment and Ecology, Culture and Sports, and Legal services. GSEE supports its members with research and training activities coordinated by the Labour Institute (INE-GSEE) which now also covers the civil-servants Federation needs (ADEDY).

After almost a decade that led to the establishment and development of bipartite and tripartite social policy institutions, recently GSEE has set the curtailment of unemployment as a major priority, and, in this context, the institution of a 35-hour working week without pay cuts. Other issues of priority concern the restructuring of Labour Inspections (i.e. the Ministry of Labour service supervising the enforcement of labour law), and the legalisation of immigrants (who according to estimates number more than 600,000 people, in other words, over 15% of the labour force).

© Friedrich Ebert Stiftung | technical support | net edition fes-library | Mai 2000

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