ATHENS (Reuters) – Greek lawmakers approved on Wednesday a labour reform bill that allows employees to opt for a longer working day in exchange for time off, a measure that has sparked strikes and protests by labour unions.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ conservative government, which has a comfortable parliamentary majority, aims to overhaul laws dating back decades to a pre-internet age when most workers clocked into offices and factories at the same set hours.
“The nucleus of this legislation is worker-friendly, it is deeply growth-oriented,” Mitsotakis said during a parliamentary debate, dismissing claims by the political opposition that his government was putting an end to the eight-hour working day.
The bill passed by 158 votes in the 300-seat parliament after lengthy debate in which all opposition parties blasted it.
The unions have described the bill as a “monstrosity” and had pressed the government to withdraw it, saying it would reverse long-established workers’ rights and allow companies to bring in longer hours through the back door.
The most disputed part of the legislation allows employees to work up to 10 hours on one day and less time on another. Unions fear this will enable employers to force workers to accept longer hours.
“Time off does not pay the bills or vacations,” the leader of the socialist PASOK party, Fofi Gennimata, said during the debate. “In practice there will no longer be an eight-hour working day but overtime that will not be paid.”
The reform also gives workers the right to disconnect outside office hours and introduces a “digital work card” from next year to monitor employees’ working hours in real time. It also increases the legal overtime to 150 hours a year.
Public transport staff in Athens went on strike for the second time in a week on Wednesday over the bill.
Ships remained docked at ports, and many bus, subway and railway services were suspended as transport staff walked off the job. Workers from other sectors also held work stoppages.
About 9,000 protesters took part in a peaceful rally in central Athens before the vote.
(Reporting by Angeliki Koutantou and George Georgiopoulos, Editing by Timothy Heritage and Gareth Jones)