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Greece's new 6-day workweek law takes effect, bucking a trend

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis arrives to take part in a Ukraine peace summit near Lucerne, Switzerland, on June 15. Mitsotakis' administration says making six days of work mandatory is necessary due to a shrinking population and a shortage of skilled workers.
Denis Balibouse
/
POOL/AFP via Getty Images
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis arrives to take part in a Ukraine peace summit near Lucerne, Switzerland, on June 15. Mitsotakis' administration says making six days of work mandatory is necessary due to a shrinking population and a shortage of skilled workers.

For most people, working five days a week is plenty. How about six?

Greece enacted a new employment law this week that lays out a six-day workweek — at a time when dozens of other countries are increasingly seeing positive results from experiments with four-day workweeks.

Law 5053/2023, passed by parliament last fall, says an employee cannot work more than 8 hours on the additional day, according to the official Government Gazette. The employee would be paid 40% overtime for the sixth day’s wages.
  

Workers in Greece have been sharply critical of the change, saying the last thing they need in an era of rising cost-of-living expenses is to be on the hook to work an extra day each week.

The new system allows employers to decide unilaterally whether a worker should come in on a sixth day. It leaves intact rules that allowed the option of a six-day workweek, in which employees work 6.5 hours for a total of 40 hours weekly, as Greek public broadcaster ERTNews reports.

Why shift to 6 days of work?

The government is giving multiple reasons.

In one explanation, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis' administration says that clearing the way to make six days of work mandatory was necessary due to “the twin perils of a shrinking population and shortage of skilled workers,” according to The Guardian, which cites statements from when the legislation was adopted last year.

The government also says that setting formal rules about a six-day workweek would fight the phenomena of undeclared work and also increase the income of employees, according to a message from the Labor Ministry in late June

The law specifies 24-hour operations

The new law applies to companies that operate continuously around the clock seven days a week, and to companies that adopt heavy shift work to cope with an unforeseen increased workload. Employers that want to bring their workers in for a sixth day are required to notify a labor inspector before the added shift.

The law doesn’t apply to people employed in hotel and food service industries — but the Athens Labor Unions Organization, or EKA, says those businesses have already been allowed to institute six-day workweeks.

Unions condemn the new law

Protests quickly erupted over the added workday. And with Greece also contending with several dangerous wildfires, Mitsotakis was criticized as being out of touch when, on Tuesday, he posted a photo of himself smiling and standing next to singer Chris Martin and the rest of the band Coldplay.
 

Greece’s large labor unions, including the Greek General Confederation of Labour, have pushed back both on the law and the way it’s being enforced.

Workers in Greece rank low in wage surveys

“Greece has the 7th highest average working time among the 38 countries of the [OECD] but is also 3rd from the bottom in average wages,” the news site Greek Reporter said in May. 

Greece raised its national monthly minimum wage for workers in the spring, to 830 euros ($897). It was the fourth wage increase in five years, Reuters reported.

Before she was replaced last month, then-Minister of Labor and Social Security Domna Michailidou said the administration wants to keep raising the minimum wage, with the goal of hitting 950 euros ($1,027) within the next four years. 

Greece’s economy has navigated numerous crises in recent decades. Despite recent gains, it remains well below the highs it achieved in 2007 and 2008 in terms of GDP per capita, according to the EU’s statistics database. That stands in contrast to many similarly sized economies in Europe, which have either mirrored or surpassed those earlier highs.

Copyright 2024 NPR

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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