Legal Advice: The Rights of Unpaid Workers

Workers still have rights in cash-strapped crisis-plagued Greece

By Anastasia Miliou, Court of Appeals lawyer

The economic crisis that has plagued small-and-medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) over the last few years, on the one hand, coupled with the increased unemployment rate has led a majority of unpaid workers to a deadlock.

Employers have exploited the fears and insecurities of their employees who are worried lest they lose their jobs, hence they are paid fractions of their normal fees instead of the full amount. Furthermore, a number of employers blackmail their staff to acceding to salary reductions and voluntary retrenchments without compensation using dismissal notices as bait so that unemployment benefits from the Manpower Employment Organization (OAED) aren’t lost.

Most employees are unaware of their legal rights, even the ones circumvented by the Memorandum agreements signed between the Greek government and international creditors.

The basic thing that all employees and workers should remember is that they have a five-year deadline in which to demand their labor rights – i.e. salaries, wage differences, subsidies, mandatory Christmas and Easter bonus payments, overtime, leave, etc. As the law currently stands, every employee can request fees that haven’t been paid from January 1, 2010, whereas from January 1, 2016, they will be able to seek payment for unpaid labor from January 1, 2011.

Labor costs owed from over five years ago can be considered lost as they has been written off.

While overtime has practically been abolished over the last few years, it can still be demanded from previous years when it was still in effect. In such cases, money from overtime should not be considered null.

The most common type of protest that unpaid workers move towards is the known work retention. The first step is a statement of extrajudicial notice, sent to the employer, where the employee explains that he cannot continue working until the money owed is paid, bearing in mind that an employment relationship is related to a fee for services. The work retention can be of long duration and is not in itself considered termination of the work contact.

Another action can be a complaint made to the Labor Inspection Corpse (Soma Epitheorisi Ergasias – SEPE). The employer is called, within a certain amount of time, to justify or prove the reason for outstanding delays in duties towards employees.

SEPE gathers a file that is sent to the Prosecutor who decides on whether there has been a penal offence according to the Law. The ex officio procedure begins and the employer is faced with the relevant penal accusations.

Accusations to SEPE as well as the publication of an extrajudicial document provide an impetus in the case of legal action, setting a starting date for judicial proceedings for money owed.

The most basic type of defense that an employees have at their disposal is court action. Labor arbitration, due to its nature, always has speedy dates as well as brief waiting periods for the issuing of a decision.

Through employment action, workers seek all outstanding debts for a five-year period, including overtime, extra labor, extra fees for labor on Saturday and Sunday, funds, differences between actual and paid wages, bonuses, leave and many other rights depending on the type of labor relation and the collective contract of each particular labor relationship. It is indifferent as to whether the labor contract is verbal or written.

Employees have the right to take action and object to the labor relation that encroaches on their workers’ rights. They can call for legal compensation and render a possible dismissal as an abuse of power while calling for salary payments for days due.

It is not obligatory that legal action for the payment of fees take place through the indictment of the employment contract. For instance, a plaintiff can ask for wages and money owed without objecting to the employment contract per se or even stop working for that particular employer. On the other hand, an objection to the contract from the employer due to legal proceedings on the part of the employee is considered null and void.

The verdict issued is effective immediately, heralding the start of execution that could include the confiscation of the debtor’s assets for twenty years. Practically, this means that even an employer who has ensured that there is no property in his/her name may still be called to make payments over time and could even be called to pay what is owed.

In other words, when money owed isn’t sought, it is written off over a five-year period, however once it is certified with a legal verdict – final and irrevocable – then the money owed by the employer is effective for a 20-year period.

There are many ways in which the legal decision can be executed depending on each case. There can be a confiscation of property and assets (e.g. cars, equipment, computers, etc) or bank accounts, such as revenue yielded for the business from third parties.

Labor Inspections Corps (SEPE) is at 10 Agisilaou Street, Athens) Telephone 210 5289229, 213, 269


Anastasia C. Miliou is a lawyer at the Court of Appeals with experience in international law and a large clientele in both Greece and abroad. Her telephone number is 6945028153. If you would like questions answered as part of her articles in English online Proto Thema, you can e-mail her at or visit