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Workplace Representation

The local ‘primary level’ unions are the most important form of employee representation in Greece. They have clear legal rights covering information, consultation and negotiation, although, as a result of the crisis, non-union bodies have been given negotiating powers. The law also provides for a works council structure. But in reality, works councils are only found in a few companies, and where they exist, they work closely with the local union.

Workplace representation

 

The legal rights which the local union, the primary level union organisation, exercises in the workplace have, until recently, provided the key to the representation of employees in Greece. Primary level union organisations have extensive rights to information and consultation under the 1982 Trade Union Democracy Act (Law 1264/1982), and in 1990 these rights were extended to negotiation (Law 1876/1990).

 

Works councils can exist alongside the primary level unions, under legislation passed in 1988 (Law 1767/1988), but their position is clearly less powerful than that of the unions and they have not been widely set up, other than in larger companies. (The rules are also different in the "state sector" such as public utilities and transport.) In reality, only a few companies have works councils, and if there is no union, there will generally not be a works council.

 

The crisis has also resulted in the emergence of another body representing workers, the so-called “associations of persons”. Although it has been possible to set up associations of persons since 1982, before 2011 they could only have a temporary existence – normally six months; they could only be set up in small companies – fewer than 40 employees; and they could not sign collective agreements. However, under the arrangements introduced in 2011 (Law 4024/2011) there is now no limit on how long they operate and they can sign collective agreements for companies of any size, provided there is no union in the company and 60% of the workforce belongs to the association of persons. Those representing the associations of persons have no permanent mandate and no protection against mistreatment by the employer. In the period 2011 to 2013, they were used to promote increasingly decentralised bargaining and pay cuts (see section on collective bargaining).

 

In addition to these bodies, health and safety delegates should be elected in workplaces with more than 20 employees and a health and safety committee should also be set up in workplaces with more than 50 employees.

 

Figures from Eurofound’s 2013 European Company Survey show that 14% of establishments in Greece with at least 10 employees have some form of official employee representation. In most cases this will be through the unions at the company, but it may be through the works council or through an association of persons. The Greek figure is less than half the EU28 average of 32%. As elsewhere in Europe, larger organisations are much more likely to have such a structure than smaller ones. The survey shows 48% establishments with more than 250 employees having representation, and 31% of those with between 50 and 249 employees. However in smaller workplaces in Greece, those with between 10 and 49 employees, only 12% have employee representation.[9]

 

Numbers and structure

 

A primary level trade union with members at the workplace has a range of rights, irrespective of the number of members or employees, although to be a separate union it must have at least 21 members.

 

The law lays down clear rules as to how primary level unions should operate. They must elect an executive committee, which should include a president, vice-president, secretary and treasurer. There are no rules as to how many members there should be on the union executive committee, but the law does stipulate how many members in a workplace are given protection against dismissal. These numbers increase with the size of the workplace (see table).

 

Number employed

Number of protected union committee members

up to 200

7

201-1000

9

1001+

11

 

The union committee meets as required but union workplace representatives should be able to meet the employer at least once a month.

 

Where there is no union, the employees themselves can come together to establish an association of persons, although this body can only sign agreements if at least 60% of the employees belong to it (see above). According to guidance issued by the ministry of labour, an association of persons can be set up by as few as five employees and should have at least two elected representatives.[10]

 

Works councils can only be set up in larger workplaces, with 50 employees or more. All those with a contract of employment are counted, irrespective as to whether it is full or part-time. Agency workers are not included in the calculation. (Works councils can, in theory, also be set up in workplaces with between 20 and 49 employees if there is no union. However, in practice, this does not occur.)

 

The request to set up a works council must be made either by the primary level union or by 10% of the workforce. They are elected by the whole workforce and consist only of employees. (There are no representatives of the employer.) The number of works council members increases with the size of the workplace (see table).

 

Number employed

Number of works council members

less than 300

3

301-1000

5

1001+

7

 

 

The works council should meet at least once a month, and should meet the employer once every two months, or more frequently if either side requests it.

 

Tasks and rights

 

As well as the basic trade union tasks such as collecting trade union subscriptions, union workplace representatives in Greece have information, consultation and negotiating rights, although these are defined fairly generally.

 

The union’s information and consultation rights begin with the monthly meeting with the employer where the two sides should "attempt to resolve any problems relating to workers or their union organisation". Trade union representatives can also be present at inspections carried out by the ministry of labour.

 

In addition, as part of the negotiating process, the trade union representatives have a right to ask for information on the economic position and plans of the company, as well as its personnel policies.

 

Issues where the union representatives should be consulted in advance include large-scale redundancies, changes in the legal form of the business, and changes in working conditions, and the two sides should try to reach an agreement through negotiation.

The union at the workplace also has a more general negotiating role.

 

In the absence of a union, an association of persons at the workplace has the right to negotiate, but only if 60% of employees belong to it.

 

The rights of the works council at the workplace are more extensive, where such a body exists, including both information and consultation and some co-decision making.

 

The works council should be kept informed of the overall economic position of the business, including its annual report and accounts. It has rights to advance information on:

  • changes in the legal form of the business; 
  • any transfer or major change of production capacity;
  • the introduction of new technology;
  • changes in the structure of the workforce including increases or decreases;
  • the planning of any overtime; and
  • yearly health and safety investment plans.

 

The works council also has the right to make proposals on improving productivity and working conditions.

 

In addition, there are a number of areas where the works council is able to take decisions "in agreement with" the employer. These cover:

  • training;
  • the use of new technology;
  • works regulations;
  • the monitoring of employees’ attendance and behaviour;
  • holiday arrangements;
  • the return to work of those who have suffered an accident at work;
  • health and safety rules; and
  • social and cultural activities.

 

If there is no agreement on these issues the dispute is to be settled through the mediation and arbitration service OMED.

 

Where there is no trade union, the works council also has consultation rights over large scale redundancies and variations in working time – as already stated, this reflects more a theoretical than a real possibility.

 

The predominance of the union channel for decision-making is emphasised by the fact that all these areas can be settled through negotiated agreements between the employer and the union, and that, if such a negotiated agreement is reached, it takes precedence over any arrangements agreed with the works council.

 

Election and term of office

 

Elections to the executive committee of the primary level trade union must take place at least every three years. The voting should be at an assembly of the members and should be secret.

 

Representatives of an association of persons should also be elected. There is no specific term of office.

 

Works council members are elected every two years in a secret ballot in an assembly of the workforce. Candidates must have at least two months’ service, and employers and managers are not eligible to stand.

 

Protection against dismissal

 

Both works council members and a limited number of union representatives benefit from protection against dismissal. They can only be dismissed in certain tightly defined circumstances, such as the disclosure of secret information or the use or threat of violence or abusive language towards the employer. There is no specific protection for representatives of an association of persons.

 

Time-off and other resources

 

The president, vice-president and general secretary of the union in a workplace are each entitled to three days a month time off if there are less than 500 employees in the workplace. In workplaces with 500 employees or more, this goes up to five days a month. However, this time off is unpaid.

 

The union is entitled to the use of a notice board. And provided that there are at least 80 employees, the employer should provide the union with the largest number of members in the workplace with a meeting room (meetings to take place outside working hours). Where there are more than 100 employees, the employer should provide office space to the union with the largest membership.

 

The chair and all other members of the works council are entitled to two hours off a week for works council business.

 

There are no specific time-off rights for representatives of an association of persons.

 

The works council must be given access to a notice board and should have office space in workplaces with more than 100 employees. The works council can also, with the agreement of the employer, use external experts, particularly on health and safety questions.

 

Training rights

 

Members of the works council have a legal right to 12 days paid leave for trade union training during their two-year period of office.

 

Representation at group level

 

In groups of companies the works councils of the different subsidiaries can appoint some of their number as representatives to co-ordinate their activities.

L. Fulton (2019) Nationan Industrial Relations, an update. Labour Research Department and ETUI (online publication). Online publication available at http://www.worker-participation.eu/National-Industrial-Relations.