Labour market integration in Greece: Policy Barriers and Enablers

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There can be no doubt that migration remains one of the most significant socio-economic issues for Europe and Greece in particular. After the past transformation of Greece from a sending to a receiving country, which resulted in the entry of a great number of economic migrants, the recent refugee crisis has modified the features of the migrant population. In particular, Greece since 1990 has altered her migration profile and has been an immigration country receiving a lot of migrant population. The year 2015 has been also a crucial point considering that Greece has received extensive flows of asylum seekers and refugees seeking protection and security. Inevitably, labour market integration of various groups of migrants (migrants, refugees and asylum seekers) follows different and most probably diverging paths.

In addition, contextual factors and over time changes in the economic environment has had a significant impact on the framing and the implementation of policies as regards the socio-economic integration of MRAs in the host society and their legal status in particular. Indeed, the legal stay of migrants and the availability of reception facilities for refugees and asylum seekers have been two significant issues as regards the policy implementation. At that respect, immigration policy has undoubtedly contributed to simplify and better manage the procedures relative to the residence permits by reducing the risks of irregularity for a significant number of migrants, in particular within the context of the persistent economic recession. It is worth noting that around 4 out of 10 settled migrants by now hold long term stay permits.

From the other hand, developments in the legislative framework of asylum led to a clear division between reception and asylum procedures for those entering the country before and after 20 March 2016 and consequently for those staying on the mainland or on the islands. The Greek administration addressed the first challenge (i.e. to enable people who were transferring to and living in temporary accommodation facilities on mainland Greece to access the asylum process) in a quite satisfactory way by accelerating the procedure for the issuing of the decision on claims for international protection. However, it failed to face with the second challenge (i.e. to rapidly evaluate the asylum applications of those who crossed the sea borders after 20 March and were being held in the hotspots for readmission to Turkey). Consequently, the hotspots were overcrowded and the reception conditions were poor in terms of sanitation and hygiene, and the access to health care was limited, in particular for vulnerable groups.

Entry and integration of MRAs in the labour market were also affected by economic downturn and the subsequent austerity measures. Thus, high unemployment and restrictions in labour rights in sectors such as construction, transport and retail where male migrants are mainly employed, led to a challenging an unfavourable environment for the access of MRA’s into the labour market. It also holds true for migrant women, mainly employed as providers of private care, domestic workers or workers in cleaning sectors; their employability has been affected since the population has now considered those services as a luxury. In practice, given that third country nationals are mostly low-skilled workers who are employed in low-skilled jobs, they remain extremely vulnerable to unfavourable economic conditions.

In practice, the framing and the implementation of policies fail to face with the barriers, such as the inability of transferring skills and credentials to a European context, the precarious legal status, the limited education and language skills and the limited work experience, that immigrants are confronted with when they are seeking stable jobs. This is obviously related to the polarisation and the fragmentation of policies aiming to facilitate the access of migrants to the labour market and to the limited involvement of the Public Employment Services in the labour market integration of migrants. It is also connected with the features of the Greek labour market. Third country nationals, particularly those with a short time residence in Greece, are mostly pushed into the underground economy and undeclared work, an issue which is of relevant importance in the context of adverse economic conditions. Despite the intensification of labour inspections, there is no sign of improvement up to now, mainly because of the non-systematic application of those inspections as well as of people’s views who very often consider undeclared employment as something legitimate. Thus, migrants are trapped in low wage and low-skilled occupations very often in the informal sector with no labour rights, without social insurance and with limited opportunities for any improvement in their socio-economic status. Although sectors such as catering, tourism and agriculture, which are in constant growth over the recent years, offer increasing opportunities to migrants for entering the labour market, those sectors are characterised by work flexibility, irregularity, discrimination and undeclared work. Last, but not least, given the persistent economic recession in Greece and the lack of job search assistance programmes, the integration of MRAs, and particularly that of refugees and asylum seekers, is hindered by the fact that they are likely to desire to be relocated in another European country and they do not have the willingness to be fully integrated in the labour market of a country which is seen more as a transit than a settlement country.

Ethnic diversity and duration of stay of the immigrant population have to be seen as significant factors of diverging schemes of migrant integration into the labour market. Thus, ethnic groups such Albanians and Pakistani, entering Greece in the first period of its transformation from a sending to a receiving country, are more likely to be better integrated into the labour market than the recent refugee streams originated from Afghanistan and Syria. Most probably because, the former are in a better position than the latter in terms of the long legal stay, the existence of ethnic informal networks, the knowledge of the Greek language and the familiarization with the State administration.

A certain number of initiatives, which can be considered as best practices, are worth mentioning:

• The introduction of a new method of payment and retention of insurance contributions (“ergossimo”), aiming at combating undeclared work, can be considered as an example of best practice for the Greek case. The “ergossimo”, introduced for the first time in Greek legislation with Law 3863/2010, is a kind of a special paycheck which concerns workers exercising non-fixed or casual work (a form of employment in which the worker is not entitled to the regular provision of work) with one or more employers. The “ergossimo” does not focus on businesses or individual employers, but on workers, in particular, those in specific disciplines, occupations or jobs (such as domestic workers, construction workers and agricultural workers). Consequently, it is, in fact a means of combating undeclared work, and in particular tax evasion and it is as such that it has been classified in the Greek legal order. Several modifying interventions for the worker's measure were made in the following years. These amendments are mainly related to procedures for extending the measure of “ergossimo” to other sectors of employment as well as the procedures for monitoring its implementation. It is also worth noting that Article 2 of Law 4225/2014 attempts to include “ergossimo” as a subject of labour inspections exercised by IKA (Social Insurance Institute). A large proportion of recipients who were targeted by this measure were immigrants, both domestic and farm workers.

• Another example of best practice is the European Qualification Passport of Refugees. It is a specially developed assessment scheme for refugees, even for those who cannot fully document their qualifications. It is based on available documentation and structured interviews. Started in 2017 as a pilot initiative, it involves several actors, namely, The Greek Ministry of Education, Research and Religious Affair, the Italian Ministry of Education, Universities and Research, the Conference of University Rectors of Italy, the Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research, the UNHCR Office in Greece the Council of Europe and several qualification recognition centres in Armenia, Canada, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway and the UK. This measure is definitely a facilitator to labour market integration. It is aiming to eliminate a barrier and to provide the recognition of skills in order to match the needs of the labour market. Although in the initial phase it is a comforting measure. Nevertheless, the coverage of this initiative is quite restrictive as it refers only to the refugee population.

• A last best practice relies on the fact that accommodation programs are now closely related to the process of integration. Until now these programs had to do with the provision of psychosocial support and economic benefits. The attendance of language courses or job counselling was on the side since the situation was characterized as an emergency situation. In present, things have changed and the process of integration is on the spot. The learning of Greek language is a prerequisite for the beneficiaries of the programs, in particular, the accommodation program HELIOS; moreover, the participation of the beneficiaries in the society is one of the fundamental goals that have to be achieved.

If you want to know more about the Greek policy barriers and enablers for the integration of migrants, refugees and asylum applicants into labour markets, please have a look here at our Greek Chapter in our WP3 Report (321-395).

Authors of the Greek Report are the team at the National Technical University of Athens.