Greece defends six-day workweek, says it is an 'exceptional measure'

A well-dressed woman walks in Syntagma Square in Athens, Greece, on July 3, 2024. A new measure adopted today concerns the right of the employer to unilaterally impose a 6-day workweek.

Nikolas Kokovlis | Nurphoto | Getty Images

The Greek government has defended its new six-day working week policy, saying it is an “exceptional measure” that would only be applied in “specific circumstances.”

Greece introduced new regulations in early July that allow workers in some businesses to work an extra two hours each day, or add an extra eight-hour shift to their schedule — meaning they can work 48 hours a week instead of the traditional 40. The policy does not apply to hospitality and tourism businesses.

Outrage over the policy spread on social media as the regulations were met with backlash from unions and political observers who criticized the measure. When the policy package containing the law was first announced in September last year, thousands protested against the new policy.

Some critics worry whether the policy could be extended to other sectors and companies, or whether workers would be unfairly compensated or would be overworked.

“It is important to note that this new regulation does not in any way affect the 5-day/40-hour workweek prescribed by Greek law, nor does it introduce a new 6-day workweek,” Niki Kerameus, Greece’s Minister of Labor and Social Security, told CNBC via email late last week.

“All it does is offer the possibility of an extra working day only in limited circumstances, as an exceptional measure.”

According to Kerameus, only two types of companies are covered by the regulations: companies that operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week with rotating shifts and companies that operate 24 hours a day, five or six days a week with rotating shifts.

The Parthenon temple is empty due to a heat wave in Athens, Greece on June 12, 2024.

Coasts Baltas | Anadolië | Getty Images

Especially for companies that are not operational every day, “the option for an additional working day is only allowed in the event of an increased workload,” Kerameus explains.

The minister said new regulations would protect workers from not properly declaring their work, meaning they could now be fairly compensated. For example, workers could see their pay rise as hours increased, she added.

“In addition, the law contains more measures to ensure the protection of workers, such as guaranteed days off, specific working hours and guarantees against unfair dismissal,” she said.

Data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development shows that workers in Greece worked more hours on average in 2022 than workers in the US, the UK and the European Union as a whole. Greek workers worked an average of over 300 hours more per year than the EU-wide average.

Kerameus said many other countries have introduced measures and provisions similar to Greece's new policy.

“Most countries in Europe have similar provisions for exceptional additional working days. So Greece is not doing anything different,” she said.

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