From the TUC

Austerity in Greece strips workers of their rights

19 May 2013, By

OLME teachers rally in Athens

Teachers rally in Athens. Photo: OLME

Last week, Greek teachers found out that their services were essential. No news there, of course – as the old poster had it “if you can read this, thank a teacher!” But the language of austerity is becoming more like George Orwell’s “newspeak” by the day. The Greek authorities defined teaching as an “essential service” in order to ban a one-day strike on Friday by the Greek Federation of Secondary Education State School Teachers (OLME).

The Greek Government has invoked these powers already earlier this year to ban a strike by dock workers. International human rights laws and the ILO do allow governments to ban strikes in essential services, but the definition of what’s essential is very narrow – usually only relating to certain functions protecting national security, public safety, public health or morals.

And the Greek Government is increasingly in the dock over taking away people’s fundamental human rights, because it’s the only way to ram through their austerity measures (and, according to one press report, they even get brownie points from ‘the markets’ for taking away workers’ rights.) They’ve been condemned by international union organisations, Amnesty International, and the European Committee of Social Rights, part of the Council of Europe.

The OLME strike was against longer hours (two hours on the average working week), which teacher unions claimed would also lead to the redundancy of many part-time teachers. But the Government has also proposed the forced movement of teachers to remote schools with shortages, on top of numerous other attacks on terms and conditions of teachers, which the union claims will also hit the quality of education in Greece.

Outraged by the ban on the teachers’ union action, the GSEE private sector confederation and public sector organisation ADEDY called on workers to protest in sympathy. But the teachers’ union – faced with threats to their members of dismissal and even arrest – had to call off the action.

Amnesty International accused the Greek Government of violating its international human rights obligations. Jezerca Tigani, Deputy Europe and Central Asia Programme Director said:

“Times of financial hardship don’t absolve governments from their obligations to uphold all human rights, and workers’ rights in particular should not become a casualty to the crisis.”

This latest step – sure to be raised by Greek unions with the International Labour Organisation at its conference next month – follows hard on the heels of the latest finding of the European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR), the main supervisory body monitoring the implementation of the (revised) European Social Charter of the Council of Europe in five collective complaints against Greece. The unions had criticised the massive reductions in social security benefits, particularly in relation to pension rights. The ECSR concluded that Greece is in violation of the right to social security enshrined in the European Social Charter.

Bernadette Ségol, ETUC General Secretary, commented that:

“It is a clear signal to the Greek authorities but in particular to the European Commission and the European Central Bank as well as the International Monetary Fund to stop urging countries to implement austerity measures leading to dramatic cuts among others in pension benefits and which are violating the international obligations of the countries concerned.”

At the end of 2012 the ECSR ruled that other Greek austerity measures, amongst others cuts in the minimum wage for workers under 25 years which meant these young Greek workers fell below the poverty line, were also in violation of the European Social Charter.