Six-Day Work Week? Greece Introduces Controversial Measure Extending Working Hours

By: Alex Trent | Published: Jul 03, 2024

While many headlines this year have been made about pushes to reduce the work week to 4 days for workers in the United States and elsewhere, Greece is now doing the opposite.

A new regulation passed last year just went into effect July 1 that extends the work week from 40 hours to 48 hours for some businesses in an aim to “boost productivity” for Greece which is under a struggling economy.

New Legislation

The new provision was part of a series of labor laws passed last year and allows workers employed in businesses that offer around-the-clock services to customers to have the option of working two extra hours a day or picking up an additional eight-hour shift every week.

Many tourists seen walking by a boat and water in Greece.

Source: Martijn Vonk/Unsplash

However, this does not apply to all businesses. For example, some industries like food service and tourism are exempt from the new regulation.


Growth Oriented Measure

The initiative is being described as a “growth-oriented move” by Greece’s Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis who is fearful of the effects of the country’s shrinking population and a shortage of workers.

The prime minister of Greece speaks in June 2024

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“The nucleus of this legislation is worker-friendly, it is deeply growth-oriented,” Mitsotakis said before the Greek parliament endorsed the law. “And it brings Greece in line with the rest of Europe.”

Working Hours in Greece

While Mistsotakis lauded the legislation as a way for Greece to catch up with the rest of Europe, data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in 2022 found that Greek employees already work more than their EU and American counterparts on average.

A construction working standing on wood outside in the daytime working.

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The average Greek worker put in 1,886 hours in 2022, which is higher than the US average of 1,811 and significantly outclasses the EU figure of 1,571 hours worked per year.

Outrage from Labor Advocates

In response to the new working hours provision going into effect, many labor advocates took to social media to declare the move “uncivilized.”

A builder hammering nails into a plank of wood.

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“Greek people already work the longest hours per week in Europe. Now they may be forced to work a sixth day, after this Greek govt decision. It is ridiculous, set against the move to four day weeks in most civilized countries,” wrote Maynooth University EU law professor John O’ Brennan on X.

Four-Day Working Week Context

Critics of the new law feel the move is particularly tone-deaf in the climate of many corporations and countries testing the possibility of reducing the work week to four days.

A planning calendar open with writing that is out of focus.

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Earlier this year the world’s largest trial of a four-day workweek found that most of the companies who adopted the reduced working week ended up making it a permanent policy.


Major Step Back

Giorgos Katsambekis, a researcher and lecturer of European and international politics at Loughborough University, was highly critical of the measure, framing it as a “major step back.”

A woman running up the steps to bleachers.

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“Instead of regulating the labour market & forcing employers to pay better salaries, the government of K. #Mitsotakis is introducing the 6-day workweek, a major step back in the country whose workforce is already working the longest hours in the EU,” said Katsambekis on X.


Forced to Work

Many commenters online took to criticizing the new working week expansion by Greece, who saw it cynically in light of Greece’s high level of debt.

A man looks down into an empty wallet

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“In a ranking of debt to GDP per country, Greece is currently ranked third. To solve this problem, we’ll just force everyone to work more and tax them for it,” said a Reddit user.


Greece’s Debt

According to Statista in 2022, Greece had the third highest national debt in the world when looking at debt to GDP. Back then, the national debt of Greece was equivalent to $401 billion dollars.

Beautiful buildings in greece with blue dome roofs.

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This statistic has continued and as of June of this year, Greece has maintained this third-place ranking, with a debt ratio of 161.9%.


Why is Greece In Debt?

When Greece became an official member of the European Union in 1981, it was a financially healthy nation without ceiling-high debt.

A sticky note that says 'pay debt.'

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However, in the years since, Greece leveraged its good finances to escalate government spending, racking up huge debts in the process. As economic growth around the world slowed, economic activity could no longer offset the country’s spending.


Exodus of Workers

Greece is currently struggling with a worker shortage and with European countries and corporations looking at 4-day work weeks, some worry this move by Greece will just cause more workers to leave looking for better conditions.

On a tile floor in an open plan corridor are the silhouettes of people walking with suitcases.

Source: Skitterphoto/Pixabay

“With parts of Europe moving to a 4 day week this seems like a terrible idea,” said one Reddit user. “ Yeah talk about asking for an exodus of workers,” said another user.


High Unemployment

Paradoxically, while Greece has a problem with labor shortages, the country is also experiencing a problem with high unemployment. The unemployment rate in the country was 12.4% in 2022.

A pile of credit cards sitting on a rug in front of a laptop.

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The answer to this contradiction lies in Greece’s high labor market insecurity, which is the highest in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development member countries. Greek workers can easily become unemployed and lose their jobs due to volatile conditions, and finding a secure job again takes longer.