Greece introduces ‘growth-oriented’ six-day working week

Countries across the globe are considering the adoption of shorter working weeks, but Greece has announced a new approach, increasing the working week from 40 to 48 hours, starting from Monday. Critics, particularly unions, have criticized this move as barbaric, arguing that it contradicts the trend towards a four-day week prevalent in other civilized countries. The Greek government, led by Kyriakos Mitsotakis, has justified the change with concerns over a shrinking population and lack of skilled workers.

The changes are intended to address issues arising from underpaid overtime work and the widespread problem of undeclared work. The six-day workweek will only apply to private companies providing 24/7 services. Employees in select industries will be given the option to work two extra hours a day or an additional eight-hour shift, receiving a 40% daily wage top-up for this extra work. The government asserts that this legislation is worker-friendly and growth-oriented, bringing Greece closer to the European standard.

however, the reaction to the new legislation has been severe. With minimal workplace inspection tradition, critics fear the reform encourages employers to dictate unpredictable sixth-day working hours, potentially undermining existing five-day working week customs. Critics argue that the change undermines legal protections, infringes upon established worker rights, and serves to boost capitalistic profits.

For opponents of the legislation, including trade unions whose power has diminished due to Athens enacting austerity measures during the financial crisis, the shift to a six-day week is problematic. Unions frequently claim that overtime enables employers to defer hiring additional staff. Tested four-day week trials have repeatedly shown increased productivity levels and proponents attribute the success to employees experiencing better focus. Belgium in 2022 granted employees the legal right to spread their working week across four days instead of five, and pilot projects have been implemented in various countries such as the UK, Germany, Japan, South Africa, and Canada.

Greeks currently work the longest hours among European nations, according to EU statistics, even though surveys show they are relatively underpaid. The opposition asserts that this wage gap coupled with higher living expenses leads to the ongoing brain drain of young, educated professionals from Greece. Retired citizens have also weighed in on the argument, stating that the government’s push to encourage them to continue working beyond their retirement ages might force them to work in excess of the allowed limits, if necessary, without adequate assistance or consideration for their circumstances. One such union leader, Grigoris Kalomoiris, called the move barbaric since many Greeks, having average monthly salaries of €900, can barely make it past the 20th of the month and these new changes are considered excessively burdensome on the unemployed young Greeks aspiring to secure employment.

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