Tsipras accuses EU chiefs of hypocrisy over labour laws

27 Mar 17

A tiff over collective bargaining in Greece resurfaced last week when prime minister Alexis Tsipras sent a letter to European leaders accusing them of double standards.


Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras. Shutterstock

Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras. Shutterstock


In the letter, the leftist Syriza party leader argued that barring his government from reinstating labour laws on issues like collective bargaining marked a prolonged departure from the social protections enshrined in EU law, which he said seem to apply everywhere in the union but Greece.

It adds to the sense of discord hanging over Greece’s third €86bn bailout, progress with which has already been delayed due to disputes related to the country’s debt and public finances.

Tsipras said the seven year-programme of economic adjustment Greece has been subject to since 2010 had seen the country become an exception to common European standards on social rights, specifically with regards to best practice on labour relations.

“This right [to employment and social protection] is constrained in my country,” the letter read. “In order to celebrate these achievements, it has to be made clear, on an official level, whether they also apply to Greece.

“Whether, in other words, the European acquis is valid for all member states without exception, or for all except Greece.”

The letter was sent to president of the European Council Donald Tusk, president of the commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, prime minister of Malta Joseph Muscat and the prime minister of Italy Paolo Gentiloni. It coincided with celebrations to mark the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, which established the European Economic Community.

In response, Juncker said there is, for him, “no doubt” that the EU social acquis applies to Greece as it does everywhere else.

However, he stressed Greece and its lenders should reach a deal that respects the commitments made by all sides at the start of the third bailout, including Greece’s promise not to reverse past labour reforms.

Following the Greek crisis in 2010, Greece’s creditors have required a number of changes to labour laws.

These included a shifting of the power to set the national minimum wage from a group made up of workers and company representatives to the government, resulting in a substantial cut in wages. Allowances for long service were abolished, mass dismissals were liberalised and collective bargaining was weakened.

Since being elected in 2015, the Syriza government has pledged to revive some of the now defunct labour laws. Today, a quarter of the Greek population is unemployed and workers have lost a quarter of their income.

Lenders argued that the previous labour environment had made Greece uncompetitive. The agreement on the third bailout prevented any of the changes from being reversed until review by independent experts had been completed.

However even the eight experts charged with completing the review found themselves in disagreement.

Labour laws are one of the key issues under discussion in fraught negotiations around moving on to the next phase of the Greek bailout, which has been dogged by disputes between Greece, its creditors and the International Monetary Fund.

Juncker said a deal is “not far away” and that all parties should work responsibly towards achieving one as quickly as possible, with the next “rendez-vous point” being a meeting of the Eurogroup on 7 April. 

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