Six-Day Work Week in Greece: What to Know

As the rest of the world zigzags toward a four-day workweek, Greece is opting for a change.

A law allowing some companies to impose a six-day workweek went into effect on Monday, a change aimed at supporting the country’s aging workforce, compensating struggling workers and safeguarding the Greek way of life.

The law applies to private sector workers in certain industrial and manufacturing sectors, or those who work in a company that operates continuous shifts 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with some exceptions. And it would only be allowed “in exceptional circumstances,” such as an unexpectedly increased workload.

Unions, which have long campaigned for better working conditions and rights, opposed the move. It sparked heated debate and, when the bill was passed last year, protests. Greece already has the longest average workweek in the European Union, and it is unclear whether the extended workweek will boost productivity.

The action in Greece stands in stark contrast to much of the world. Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont, pushed in March to reduce the standard workweek in the United States from 40 to 32 hours. Experiments have been conducted in Britain, Iceland and New Zealand, at least partly in response to the dramatic changes in work precipitated by the coronavirus pandemic.

Here’s what to know about overtime measures in Greece.

Greece, like its counterparts in the European Union, is facing a shortage of skilled labor.

Conservative lawmakers across the country have presented the law as a way to provide more resources to employers while also providing additional income to workers.

The extra day, said Niki Kerameus, the minister of labor and social security, will allow employers to meet “urgent operational demands” that cannot be met given the current supply of workers, and will also put more money in employees’ pockets.

Under the law, workers get an extra 40 percent on the sixth day. That rate goes up to 115 percent if that day falls on a Sunday or a holiday. Some workers are already working more than 40 hours a week without being paid for the extra time, and supporters of the new measure say it offers them protections because employers would have to report the extra hours to the government.

The labor shortage has its roots in the financial crisis that began in 2009. Huge numbers of workers, mostly young Greeks, have gone abroad in search of better prospects, and some companies have cut training and development, further exacerbating the problem.

The ensuing boom provided welcome financial relief, but it also left employers short-staffed as the economy recovered. Greece has struggled to handle a huge influx of migrants, but is now offering residency and work permits to some more established migrants, as well as signing deals with other countries to bring in more workers for certain sectors such as agriculture.

The Greek government sought to downplay the implications of the move, stressing that it was an “exceptional measure” that “does not affect in any way the established five-day working week,” Kerameus said.

But many, especially on the left, are furious.

Syriza, the left-wing opposition party, denounced what it called “a return to 19th century working conditions that shames the country.”

Nikos Fotopoulos, general secretary of the Greek private sector union, sharply criticized the measure in an open letter to Ms Kerameus, the labour minister, calling the government “the most barbaric and anti-worker government ever”.

According to the research institute of the Greek private sector workers' union, nearly one in five Greek adults was at risk of poverty last year, and Mr Fotopoulos said the government's argument that workers could forgo the extra day was flawed.

“What worker, with the unemployment and poverty we have, would dare say no to uncontrolled employers who you have allowed to treat workers like slaves?” Mr. Fotopoulos wrote.

Proponents of the four-day workweek say it could bring significant benefits to both employers and employees.

The logic? Fewer hours in the office should mean that time there should be more productive. Workers, the theory goes, will have more energy and incentive to push through the 3-5 p.m. snack break, or other periods when fatigue sets in and the mind starts to wander.

“When people work less, they tend to work smarter,” said Dale Whelehan, CEO of 4 Day Week Global, a nonprofit group. “As a result, they eliminate unproductive time in their work and get more done in less time.”

The evidence is still emerging, but a British trial, led by Dr. Welehan’s group, appears to have had favorable results. In a survey about halfway through the study, in 2022, most companies reported no loss of productivity during the trial.

Greece had the longest average working week in the European Union last year. Working-age people spent an average of 39.8 hours at work, compared with the bloc average of 36.1 hours.

As Greece seeks to extend the workweek in some cases, proponents of the four-day workweek like to point out that sometimes less can mean more when it comes to productivity.

And Greece's productivity has long lagged the European Union average. Data from Eurostat, the bloc's statistics agency, show that Greek productivity per hour worked was 30 percent below the bloc's average last year.

“It provides an incentive for workers to increase their wages, while increasing fair play on the part of employers,” said Emmanouil Savoidakis, an Athens lawyer who said some of his manufacturing clients have already expressed interest. “Anyone who wants to increase production has to do so within certain rules and pay overtime.”

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