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Can Greece’s new six-day workweek be a model for others?

June 22, 2024

Greece is moving toward a six-day workweek, while several other countries are experimenting with shorter office hours. The government hopes to make up for missing workers and fight black market labor. Can it work?

For most people, labor law can be boring. But when someone suggests working an extra day, people start to pay attention.

In Greece, new regulations are coming into effect on July 1 that make this possible.

After that day certain industrial and manufacturing facilities, as well as businesses providing 24/7 services, can move to a six-day workweek instead of the traditional five, says Emmanouil Savoidakis, head of the labor law practice at Politis & Partners, a law firm based in Athens that specializes in business law. Tourism and food service industries are excluded from this new arrangement.

For those impacted, it would mean a normal legal workweek of 48 hours instead of the previous 40. In theory, employees can choose to work more if companies want them to. Those who work more will also be paid more.

The Greek government says the new rules will simplify administration, reduce probation periods to six months and shine a light on overtime.

The legislation is also supposed to help fill holes in the skilled-labor market by combating undeclared work and offering incentives like free employee training to help “upskill and adapt to evolving market demands,” said Savoidakis, who has over 15 years of legal experience. Importantly “the six-day workweek is not universally applicable but is restricted to certain business sectors.”

Can this be a role model for other countries?

Two tourists standing in front of the Parthenon in Greece under an umbrella to avoid the hot sun
Tourism makes up a big part of the Greek economy and it is suffering from a lack of qualified workersImage: Petros Giannakouris/AP/picture alliance
Putting in more or less hours at the office
Greece has many challenges like low wages, high unemployment and a declining population, but it is not alone. Yet working more stands in stark contrast to most of its European neighbors.

Companies in several countries like Germany, Belgium, France, the UK, Spain and Iceland have been experimenting with different workweek models. Either squeezing the 40-hour week into four days of more intense 10-hour days. Or simply getting 100% of the work done in just 80% of the time, while still receiving a full salary.

Earlier this year in Germany, the national railway company Deutsche Bahn and the train drivers’ union agreed to gradually reduce the standard workweek from 38 to 35 hours. Demands for a shorter workweek are being made in other sectors as well.

A Greek recovery from bad times
Greece though is taking another path. And this isn’t the first time the country has been confronted with a six-day workweek. During their debt crisis, which started in 2009 and nearly got the country kicked out of the eurozone, some lenders demanded that the Greeks work more.

The country accepted bailouts worth billions of euros that came with strict austerity measures. Yet, a sixth day of work was not introduced.

Now Greece is back on track and GDP growth is expected to be 2.2% this year and 2.3% next year, above the eurozone average, according to European Commission calculations released in mid-May. Unemployment is expected to fall from a forecast 10.3% this year to 9.7% in 2025.

Still, during the past decade many young, well-educated Greeks have left the country because they saw better opportunities abroad. The population is expected to shrink from 10.7 million in 2019 to around 10.4 million in 2029, worsening an existing shortage of skilled workers in some sectors like agriculture, tourism and construction.

At the same time, Greeks already put in some of the longest hours per year, according to the OECD. Although the OECD numbers are sometimes difficult to compare, the trend is clear. Greeks work significantly more than their counterparts in the UK, the US and Germany.

Making the law reflect a Greek reality
On the positive side, the minimum monthly wage for white-collar workers rose to €830 ($887) from April 1, up from €650 in 2019. The average monthly wage is now around €1,250, and the Greek prime minister recently announced he plans to bring it up to €1,500 by 2027.

But these wage increases do not make up for previous wage reductions and persistent high inflation that have forced many citizens to work two jobs to make ends meet, says Jens Bastian from the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin.

The new regulations just “retroactively adjust the legal context to the reality existing in the Greek labor market for years,” he said, which simply means many people already work more than five days.

Working longer and earning more could even “land various employees in higher personal income tax and social security brackets, thus neutralizing prospective wage gains by working longer hours,” Bastian told DW.

Structural change instead of longer hours
Moreover, the new regulations give employers a lot of sway. Can jobseekers refuse the offer and stick to their current five-day workweek?

“The negotiations between employer and employee can include the former demanding and the latter refusing to work longer,” said Bastian.

In Greece, many working time arrangements lack trade union representation, in particular at small and medium-sized companies. “Keeping your job may be the bigger incentive than refusing to work longer hours at the insistence of the employer,” Bastian said.

Emmanouil Savoidakis from the Politis & Partners law firm in Athens says several corporate clients are already interested in a six-day workweek “to enhance their operational capacity and better serve their customers, particularly those in industries facing labor shortages and high seasonal demand.” He could see it rolled out in businesses with fluctuating workloads like retail, manufacturing and health care.

Much of this is just a short-term fix though. A six-day workweek can’t solve Greece’s broader economic problems, said Bastian. Longer working hours won’t make up for missing personnel in the long term and other countries should pay attention.

Greece needs to make structural changes that include “incentives such as viable career trajectories, equal opportunity and higher wages that reflect people’s professional expertise,” said Bastian.

“In that respect, Greece has a long and winding road to go until it catches up with most other countries in Europe. Working longer hours and Saturday is akin to taking a road in the opposite direction,” he concluded.

Edited by: Ashutosh Pandey

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