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What can you do about Greece’s anti-social judges?

30 July 2017

What can you do about Greece’s anti-social judges?

In recent weeks a great deal of justified criticism has been levelled at the Polish government’s proposals, which have the support of the country’s Parliament, to give the holders of political power the right to hire and fire judges. Judges should be independent so that when necessary they can protect the citizenry from governmental power. But what can you do about rulings from national judges that involve a direct attack on social rights, as was recently the case in Greece? The left Greek government was immediately lumbered with a major problem. Did the division of powers have to be so thorough that the government could not criticise such a ruling?

In Greece a storm of protest arose amongst jurists when the left government led by Syriza’s Alexis Tsipras publicly criticised a number of rulings by the Greek High Council. I can understand why this was so, because the criticisms could scarcely be called measured. The Greek judges were perfectly happy with a situation in which an employer failed to pay workers on time, as in their view the delay in payment did not transgress the conditions laid down in the work contract. That’s impossible to understand: it’s as if when you get to the tills in the supermarket you can simply say that you’ll pay the bill later. It’s unlikely, however, that you’d be allowed to take your purchases away with you. Yet it’s clear that for the Greek courts, such goods are more important than labour.

Foto: JD Lasica/Cruiseable.com

If an employee in Greece temporarily stops working because his or her wages haven’t been paid, the Greek courts will see that as effective resignation and you’ll find yourself out of work. With an unemployment rate of 22.5%, it’s no easy thing to find another job. And what guarantee do you have that your next employer will pay on time?

However incomprehensible and however blameworthy the Greek judges’ rulings, the Polish ‘solutions’ are not the answer, throwing as they do the baby (in this case an independent judiciary)out with the bathwater. I would certainly advise the unions involved not to take this lying down. They could lodge a complaint with the Committee of the Council of Europe that oversees the enforcement of the European Social Charter. Such an international ruling might make the Greek judges see things in a different light. And of course street protests could be organised. At the same time I’m sympathetic to the Greek government’s criticism, as long as it doesn’t go so far as to sack the judges. It’s not right to criticise judges, but not paying your workers is even worse.

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