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Sunday, 9 March 2008

News I need to understand

ana-digest Sunday, March 9 2008 Volume 01 : Number 3060
Talks on new collective labour agreement end in deadlock
Talks held on Thursday between the General Confederation of Workers of Greece (GSEE) and labour unions on the new collective labor agreement for the year 2008 ended in deadlock. According to GSEE, the proposal for 3 percent increases as of 1/1/2008 and another 3 percent as of 1/9/2008 and 4.5 percent from 1/5/2009, evidently for a two-year collective agreement, has been rejected categorically by the unions. GSEE spoke of insistence on the part of employers on increase percentages at the limits of inflation, that are very distant from the needs and the requirements of working people.
Federation of Greek Industries (SEB) President Dimitris Daskalopoulos expressed optimism, but noted that it is a question of negotiating that is underway. GSEE President Yiannis Panagopoulos said that the employers' proposals fall very short of the unions' targets and pointed out that the discussion is taking place on the minimum current salaries of €657 and the minimum daily wages that are €29.5 at the moment.

Court declares BoG strike 'illegal and abusive'
An Athens court on Thursday morning declared as 'illegal and abusive' the surprise strike launched by employees at the Bank of Greece (BoG), the country's central bank, that has brought the Athens Stock Exchange (ATHEX) and Athens Derivatives Exchange (ADEX) to a standstill since the beginning of the working week, following recourse by the bank (this issue explained the police and crowd we saw outside municipal offices in Corfu city one morning this February).
The court upheld a complaint fled by the central bank's administration against the BoG employees' union, on the grounds that a 'security (skeleton) staff' had not been designated, and the union's failure to announce the strike four days in advance of its commencement, as required by law. According to the ruling, the cost arising from the mobilisation was disproportionate with the strikers' demands. The ongoing strike began on Monday and was called by Bank of Greece employees in protest over government plans to merge their pension fund with those of other groups of employees in the framework of a social insurance reform package. All the central bank's services have been shut down as a result, including priority services such as its computer centre, payment systems, the electronic secondary securities
market and others. Hellenic Exchanges, the operators of the Athens bourse, suspended trading shortly after the commencement of the session on Monday 'in order to protect investors and ensure the smooth functioning of the market', and assured that it was ready immediately to reopen trading when the strike ended. The bourse authorities explained that trading was suspended because the ongoing strike by BoG employees did not allow clearing of the transactions, since the Greek section of the European Central Bank's Target system was not in operation due to the walkout. The EU-wide payment platform TARGET, the Trans-European Automated Real-time Gross settlement Transfer system, is a cross-border settlement mechanism, which processes over 190,000 payments each day valued at over €1 trillion, of which more than 41,000 payments valued at over €450 billion are cross-border payments. The Euro Banking Association (EBA) operates the Target STEP 2 system, which permits automatic processing of mass low-value payments throughout the EU.

Hearing of PPC management's case against strikers on Friday
The case brought by the management of the Public Power Corporation (PPC) against an ongoing strike called by the power company's union GENOP-DEH (see thePRESGENOP YouTube video here to get a feel for the debate going on. I note that opportunity to comment has been disabled) will be heard on Friday at an Athens first-instance court. The PPC's management is asking that the strike, which began on March 3, be declared illegal and excessive. The hearing was originally set for Thursday but was postponed because legal counsel representing the union asked to be allowed to study the management's case.
PPC claims that the union failed to observe the legal requirements for calling a strike, while arguing that the strike was damaging both to the company and society as a whole. It also stressed that the consequences of the strike were excessively severe and out of proportion to the 'relatively trivial anticipated gains of the strikers'. Shortly before the trial proceedings began, there were incidents in which striking power company workers lobbed eggs at police because they were prevented from entering the court room.
Since Wednesday, after the striking workers took over and shut down 16 power plants throughout Greece, the PPC has been forced to impose rotating power cuts in areas throughout the country in order to avoid overloading the system and causing a blackout. The union called the strike in response to government plans to include the
workforce's pension fund in a more general reform of social insurance systems in Greece. Commenting on the ongoing strike, which GENOP-DEH has decided to extend until next Wednesday with a series of rolling 24-hour strikes, government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos on Thursday called on the strikers to also consider the interests of society and use skeleton staff to keep power plants running. 'The right to strike exists but there are also obligations toward the social whole and no one has the right to use a social utility in order to achieve whatever they consider fair,' he added. He said that there were currently 19 power stations offline, three for maintenance and 16 due to the workers' strike, and that the system had a deficit of 4900 MW or 40 percent of its total capacity. He also stressed that the reforms would split the PPC workforce pension fund into a main and supplementary pension fund, that it preserved the assets of both of the PPC and its pension fund, while the state guaranteed the public nature of the fund which would be self-administrating and would continue to own whatever it owned at present.

[Read Domina Graecia's views on what's happening and this from Kathimerini]

Meantime the story that most interests me is the Athens News story of 29 February on attempts to introduce national zoning legislation to control 'building anarchy' in Greece:


Zoning plan divides Greece by Thrasy Petropoulos

Environment and Public Works Minister George Souflias unveils the finalised national zoning plan. "Bringing order to the building anarchy of Greece" was the way Environment and Public Works Minister George Souflias described the finalised national zoning plan, which was unveiled on February 27. Having been approved by the inner cabinet earlier that day, the plan will now be put to parliament before Easter. Seen as essential for the sustainable development of industry, tourism and housing, the country's first such national zoning plan could, therefore, become a reality by summer.
"This national zoning plan is one of the most important structural changes to have taken place in this country in recent decades. From now, everyone will know what they are able to do and where," said Souflias. He conceded, however, that the plan, which is to be supplemented by more specific zoning plans for tourism, industrial and renewable energy installations, is no more than a guideline and will only be properly enforceable once nationwide land and forest registries have been completed.
Specifically, the zoning plan outlines the completion of land and forest registries and the streamlining of municipalities, prefects and regions (all within four years of the plan being passed by parliament), the completion of studies on 80 protected Natura 2000 sites (by 2013) and the completion of sewage and waste treatment facilities for areas of more than 2,000 people (within five years).
The plan envisages zones identifying areas for industrial and tourism development. These zones, said Souflias, would be supervised and the law enforced through fines. However, the plan stopped short of banning or further restricting out-of-town planning construction (viewed as a motivating factor for forest-burning) as proposed in draft versions of the 77-page document.
"This is a significant step in the right direction, but I have many reservations," Vivi Batsou, a senior member of the representation committee of the Technical Chamber of Greece - the state advisory body of engineers and architects - told Kathimerini. "It is no more than a guideline. The real question is whether the ministry will be consistent with its interpretation and say that the same rules apply in, say, Komotini and Crete, or whether the current situation where each municipality does its own thing will prevail." She added that out-of-town planning construction has been extremely damaging to Greece environmentally. "There are a series of exceptions through which out-of-town planning construction is made possible," she explained. "Strictly speaking, you need four stremmata (4,000m2) of land in order to build out of town. In reality, this can come down to 750m2 if you meet certain provisions - for instance, if the land was owned by someone before 1960 or if your land is next to a road linking towns. This is why you see so many buildings along out-of-town roads."
Batsou acknowledged, however, that a strict ban on such construction would be virtually unenforceable in the absence of land and forest registries. Indeed, Souflias outlined that the completion of the forest registry would highlight many instances of illegal construction now deemed acceptable.
"Some have said that aerial photographs from 1945 should be used in making the forest registry," said Souflias. "This would expose our hypocrisy as it would show entire suburbs of Athens built on what was once forestland. Would we then demolish these suburbs?" He suggested the use of photographs from 1960, the most recent comprehensive aerial photographs the country has.
Yiannis Maniatis, Pasok's shadow minister for environment and public works, accused Souflias of "provocative authoritarianism and arrogance" and said that the plan would take Greece back to the 1970s. "They are promoting an anachronistic model that is against any viable regional development," he said. "It ignores the views of opposition parties, environmental organisations and the most important scientific and social bodies. It is enough to say that only five of the 16 bodies that took part in the dialogue supported the plan."
Vangelis Apostolou, of the Left Coalition (Synaspismos) said: "From the moment that municipalities and prefectures are against the plan, it does not even have the support of local communities."
Souflias' plan envisages a drastic reduction in the number of municipalities (currently over 1,000), prefectures and regions across Greece.

So much depends on political will and acumen, but the point about the need for what we call Structure Plans supporting long-term statutory land-use policies is well taken. The point of a structure plan is that it's a 'tablet of stone', carved via extensive consultation lasting several years. It entails precise documentation and detailed maps specifying what can be done with land - divided in the UK into zones that cover the whole country, with each zone being between 20 and 40 miles across. Structure Plans, revised every 25 years, define how land may or may not be used - defining where it's acceptable to construct homes, retail or industrial building, layout or protect green space including urban gardens, woodlands, forests, farmland, orchards, lake land, shorelines, rivers, public parks, playing fields and so on). The Structure Plan protects these agreed uses in planning law. The plan can be breached and is as I know from the experience over 10 years of taking objections to an application to build on green space in Birmingham nearly all the way to judicial review. Many here argue that the developer has the stronger hand, but developers will complain robustly about the 'bureaucracy' imposed by structure plan zoning and lobby the government for 'streamlining'. A method known as Planning Gain or Section 106 Agreements allows building on spaces intended to be maintained as 'greenfield sites', if the applicant in return for being granted planning permission to build creates alternative community resources, which may also mean clearing other areas as green space in place where they are building. As might be imagined Section 106A's are nothing if not contentious. Greek land values are not set by Greeks alone. the market for land in Greece is created internationally - hence the phenomenon of yearning, burning and earning.

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