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Greece introduces the six-day work week

June 21, 2024

From the construction industry to the tourism sector, Greek employers cannot find the staff they need. The government's solution: longer working hours. A new law enables employers to implement a six-day work week

A man stands on a red-tiled roof. In the background is the Greek village of Horio on the island of Symi and the sea
Many workers in Greece will have to work longer hours from July 1Image: Pond5 Images/IMAGO

After 15 years of recession and austerity and three rescue packages that came with tough conditions attached, labor in Greece is no longer strictly regulated.

Collective agreements have been frozen for years, and in many businesses, staff work on the basis of individual employment contracts.

While the 40-hour work week is still officially in place, employers are permitted to require staff to work up to two unpaid hours per day for a limited period in return for more free time.

In theory, this additional work is voluntary. In reality, however, workers in many businesses and workplaces are forced to work longer hours without receiving any form of compensation.

A hand holds a red carnation in the air. In the background, Greek flags and trade union flags are being waved. Trade union protest rally, Athens, Greece, May 1, 2023
Trade unionists protesting against the watering down of workers' rights in GreeceImage: Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images

The authorities — which are themselves short-staffed — rarely carry out checks to make sure that labor law is being observed. Making sure that the authorities can do such monitoring tasks effectively is not a priority for the conservative government of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

Greeks work longest hours in Europe

But even before the law on the six-day work week comes into force on July 1, Greek workers work longer hours than any other workforce in Europe. With an average 41 hours per week, they work more than all other EU citizens, according to the EU's statistics agency, Eurostat. What's more, the pay they get for these long hours is low by European standards.

With a minimum monthly wage of €830 ($887), Greece ranks 15th in the EU in this respect. In terms of purchasing power, it ranks second last in Europe.

Employers can instruct staff to work longer hours

From July 1, many workers in industry, retail, agriculture and some service sectors will have to work a six-day work week if their employers decide that it is necessary. A supplement of 40% of the daily wage will be paid for the sixth day of labor.

Two men iron garments at ironing boards in a textile factory. Clothes hang on a rail in the background
Some migrants from Bangladesh are already working six-day work weeks in the Greek textile industryImage: Arafatul Islam/DW

The hospitality sector is excluded from this regulation because the five-day work week was abolished there in 2023.

The death of the five-day work week

"Law 5053/2023 will kill off the five-day work week for good," says Aris Kazakos, professor emeritus of labor law in Thessaloniki and a well-known legal expert. He warns of the negative impact of giving employers absolute power in labor relations. Because the employer has the authority to require staff to work a sixth day in the week, staff cannot refuse to work, he says.

Kazakos is in favor of collective wage agreements, which are, however, being increasingly limited by legislation passed by the ruling conservative New Democracy (ND) government.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis gesticulates as he addresses parliament in Athens
The law passed by the government of Kyriakos Mitsotakis (pictured here) enables employers to implement a six-day work weekImage: Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images

"When it comes to individual negotiations, the employer holds absolutely all the cards and can dictate practically any conditions he wishes, with the exception of the minimum rights stipulated in labor law," says Kazakos, adding that if laws are relaxed, even these minimum protections will be canceled out.

"Because the employer can dictate working conditions that are beneficial for him, this automatically means that labor relations become a regime of injustice, because anything in labor relations that benefits only one side can never been just," he told DW

The official reason for the introduction of the six-day work week is that there is a shortage of skilled workers on the Greek labor market. Ultimately, the law means that overtime will become cheaper for employers, who will not have to hire more staff.

Increased safety risks

In most European countries, trade unions are fighting for a reduction in working hours without a reduction in pay. The aim is, among other things, to boost employment. The logic is that the 35-hour or four-day work week limits overtime, thereby forcing employers to hire additional staff.

In addition, studies have shown that this model increases staff productivity and willingness to work. The new Greek regulation on the six-day work week and the reduction in arbitration proceedings that comes with it are turning back the clock, Kazakos told DW.

A hillside village overlooking the sea on the Greek island of Santorini. Almost all of the houses are painted white, as are the windmills in the background and the large church
The village of Oia on the island of Santorini is particularly popular with touristsImage: Sarah Hucal/DW

He warns that the burden of a six-day work week increases safety risks for staff in industrial sectors. Even now, the number of accidents at work is high in Greece. A total 179 workers were killed in accidents at work in 2023, up from 104 the year before.

Greeks seek work abroad

Faced with low wages, limited career opportunities and ever-longer working hours without decent compensation, many Greeks seek work abroad. What's more, a rising number are refusing to work in tourism because many see the working conditions in the sector as akin to modern slavery.

Seasonal workers on popular holiday islands like Mykonos and Santorini already work seven days a week. In addition, many live in overcrowded accommodation. It is not rare for ten people to share a single living and sleeping space.

However, at least the pay is good on Mykonos, which cannot be said for some of the less well-known Greek holiday destinations.

All of this is why hotel-owners in regions like the popular Chalkidiki peninsula in northern Greece are having trouble finding enough workers. As a result, some restaurants and hotels in Greece will open late this summer.

This article was originally written in German.

A woman (Kaki Bali) with shoulder-length brown hair and blue eyes stands in front of a bookcase and smiles into the camera
Kaki Bali DW correspondent in Athens