Open Europe Blog

Oh the irony. The EU/ECB/IMF troika are now working their ever living tails off to push the Greeks and Portuguese towards more flexible labour markets, and less top-down regulation – and the European Commission is, in parallel, putting pressure on Italy and Spain to do the same. Simultaneously, however, the same European Commission is clinging on like a leech to the most top-down piece of labour market law imaginable (well almost): the EU’s Working Time Directive (WTD).

Well, these twin efforts might now be heading for a clash. Reports floating around yesterday suggested that the EU/IMF/ECB troika wants Greece to do more to flush out its rigid labour market by, amongst other things, raising the maximum number of working days per week to six. The reports are still sketchy – supposedly from leaked emails – so should be taken with a pinch of salt. Still, it paves the way for a pretty weird situation.

The leaked plans suggested the troika would demand the following to boost flexibility of labour arrangements:

• Increase the number of maximum workdays to 6 days per week for all sectors.
• Set the minimum daily rest to 11 hours.
• Delink the working hours of employees from the opening hours of the establishment.
• Eliminate restrictions on minimum/maximum time between morning and afternoon shifts.
• Allow the consecutive two week leave to be taken anytime during the year in seasonal sectors. 

Now the Working Time Directive:

• A maximum working week of 48 hours
• A rest period of 11 consecutive hours a day
• A rest break when the day is longer than six hours
• A minimum of one rest day per week 

In addition, a range of ECJ cases have extended the scope of the WTD even further (sick days spent on holiday can be reclaimed, doctors who sleep on-call are actively working etc).

The latest Troika plans, if true, would not break the WTD it seems, but they’re clearly taking Greece to the limits of what is permissible under EU law – lest they want to push Greece to seek a UK-style opt-out from the WTD (leading to a bizarre scenario, whereby the Commission urges an opt-out from its own rules). One step further and the acquis communautaire would get in the way. In addition, a hardworking Greek who wants to follow the Troika’s recommendations by putting in a six day working week, better be sure to clock out right on time, after eight hours have gone by, or he would be engaging in activities illegal under EU law.

This raises a second question: if the Troika was tasked with working out a competitiveness plan for the entire EU, would the WTD – and many other onerous EU regulations, and the EU budget for that matter – survive?

We suspect not.

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