Greece Introduces 48-Hour Workweek to Fight Economic Crisis

Greece is going against the grain. The long working week has been in force since July, while all of Europe (and the world) is experimenting and getting closer to the short one. For the Greeks: six-day shifts a week, for a total of 48 hours. The long cure of blood, sweat and tears began fifteen years ago to deal with the debt crisis and the bailout of Athens (with the famous Troika) with billions of euros lent, toavoid default.And this latest regulation is also part of the accelerator policy on economic growth. A “barbarism” according to the workers’ unions.

The new law concerns private companies that provide services 24 hours a day. Staff will be able to choose whether to work two more hours a day or do an extra shift, that is, the sixth of the week. The 48-hour week corresponds to a supplement of 40% of the daily salary and 115% if the “extra” falls on a holiday. The measure does not apply to tourism and catering, where the long week is already in force. The companies affected are therefore mainly those in industry, telecommunications and retail trade.

The decision, in the name of increasing productivity, is justified by the need to stem the chronic shortage of labor, which is putting many sectors of the Greek economy in crisis. Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has called the sharp demographic decline a “time bomb”. Since the crisis broke out, over 500,000 Greeks, mostly young people, have left the country. And the workforce, especially qualified, is lacking. Among the reasons that the conservative government puts on the table are the widespread problem of undeclared work and unpaid overtime. Finally, productivity, which according to the executive the long week should support, against the opinion of several economists. The European Commission estimates, in fact, that nominal labor productivity per hour worked in Greece is about 40% lower than the European average. And this in the face of one of the most Stakhanovite countries. Greece, with 39.8 hours per week, is the European country where people work the most (Eurostat data). Romania (39.5), Poland (39.3) and Bulgaria (39.0) follow. On the opposite side are the Netherlands (32.2 hours), Austria (33.6) and Germany (34.0). Italy is in the middle, with 36.1 hours per week. So the Greeks work a lot, but productivity does not go hand in hand with the number of hours, as well as salaries (average annual income of 10 thousand euros against the 22 thousand of the European average). Here the unions rise up: “Better productivity goes hand in hand with better working conditions, a better quality of life (for employees) and this, we know, means fewer hours, not more. It makes no sense. When almost all other civilized countries are adopting a four-day week, Greece decides to go in the opposite direction” declared Akis Sotiropoulos, of the public employees’ union Adedy.

But almost 15 years after the historic crisis, how is Greece really doing? Last year, GDP grew by 2% and for 2024, the forecast is +3% (almost at pre-2009 levels), well above the 0.8% of the eurozone. In addition, public debt is expected to contract to levels similar to Italy in 2025. Athens recently announced that it plans to repay 8 billion euros of bailout loans this year, ahead of schedule. By then, around 20 billion euros will have been repaid over the years, ahead of schedule.
An economy that is growing and that has partly overcome the 2009 crisis, but a country with structural problems and deep social inequalities, precisely because of that default that was avoided with very serious consequences over the years. Unemployment is still over 10% (the maximum was 28.2% in 2013) and salaries are still very low. A quarter of citizens are at risk of poverty. Now the long week as a means to push growth. Time will tell if the right is on the side of Athens or of most of the rest of Europe and the World.