European Trade Union Institute, ETUI.

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Strikes in Greece - background summary

The right to strike is a constitutional right exercised by trade union organisations to protect and promote the interests of workers. It may also be exercised as an expression of solidarity. The right to strike is protected by the Constitution (Article 23) and governed by specific laws (procedures and restrictions). Lockouts are prohibited by law. Law 1264/1982 (Article 19) and the Greek courts have laid down detailed rules on the concept of proportionality of strikes. [1]

Only the trade unions may call strikes. First level trade unions may only call strikes after a decision by the general meeting in a secret ballot. However, for work stoppages of a few hours (not more than one per week) a decision by the executive committee is sufficient. Second level organisations(federations and work centres) and confederations (GSEE) may call a strike after a decision by their executive committees.

The employer must be given at least 24 hours’ notice of the strike (four days in the case of public supply undertakings/public services) and security personnel are made available. For public services, additional personnel must be provided for urgent social requirements.

A strike may be considered unlawful if certain conditions and procedures are not observed, but also in the light of the proportionality principle, which enables courts to decide in each case whether the anticipated benefit from the strike is greater than the economic damage to the employer.

Greece, like other countries in southern Europe, has been at the epicentre of social protest during the crisis. After 2010, when the adjustment programme started, and particularly in 2011 and 2012 (when the austerity measures were stepped up), there was a wave of protest in all sectors (private sector, civil service, public undertakings) with various forms of action.

An increase in general strikes, strikes in different sectors, work stoppages and numerous demonstrations has been noted, in addition to many occupations of workplaces, ministries, public bodies and local authorities. [2]

There are no official figures for strikes.

According to the GSEE Institute of Employment: [3]

  • between May 2010 and the end of 2015, the GSEE organised 28 general strikes (20 lasting 24 hours and 4 lasting 48 hours);
  • in 2011 201 strikes and 116 work stoppages were recorded; in 2012 the figures were 232 and 104 respectively;
  • a slowdown in the number of strikes and work stoppages was noted from 2013 (160 and 86), a reduction from 2014 (142 and 93) and particularly in 2015 (97 and 89).

Right to strike under threat?

The institutional framework for strikes and social conflicts has not been changed during the crisis. The creditors have put pressure on the Greek Government to modernise the arrangements for trade union action and the rules governing the right to strike.

Memorandum III (August 2015) provides for a group of independent experts to review the existing framework of the labour market and then modernise the arrangements for collective bargaining, trade union action and mass redundancies.

In its report (September 2016), [4] the group of independent experts recommends that the present arrangements on the right to strike do not need to be changed and notes that there is no need to introduce lockouts. The IMF, on the other hand, takes the view that the 2011 and 2012 labour market reforms should be supplemented by measures to bring mass redundancy procedures and the rules governing the right to strike into line with best practices. [5] The right-wing opposition has recently stated that the rules governing the right to strike need to be amended and that no strike should be triggered without a decision by ‘50 % + 1 employee’. [6]

[1] The courts normally refer to the doctrine of abuse of rights and the need for proportionality when penalising strikes judged to be unjustified or disproportionate.

[2] INE GSEE study (2014) on the phenomenon of strikes in Greece, Το Απεργιακό φαινόμενο στην Ελλάδα :

[3] Katosridas (2016) and Papanikolaou (2016)