Complaint No. 30/2005
by the Marangopoulos Foundation for Human Rights (MFHR) against Greece
(Adopted by the Committee of Ministers on 16 January 2008
at the 1015th meeting of the Ministers' Deputies)
The Committee of Ministers,1
Having regard to Article 9 of the Additional Protocol to the European Social Charter providing for a system of collective complaints,
Taking into consideration the complaint lodged on 4 April 2005 by the Marangopoulos Foundation for Human Rights (MFHR) against Greece,
Having regard to the report transmitted by the European Committee of Social Rights, in which the European Committee of Social Rights concluded:
(i) by 9 votes to 1 that Greece has not managed to strike a reasonable balance between the interests of persons living in the lignite mining areas and the general interest, and therefore that there has been a violation of Article 11§§1, 2 and 3 of the Charter.
The Greek National Action Plan for 2005-2007 (NAP1) provides for greenhouse gas emissions for the whole country and all sectors combined to rise by no more than 39.2% until 2010, whereas Greece was commited, in the framework of the Kyoto Protocol, to an increase in these gases of no more than 25% in 2010. When air quality measurements reveal that emission limit values have been exceeded, the penalties imposed are limited and have little dissuasive effect. Moreover, the initiatives taken by DEH (the public power corporation operating the Greek lignite mines) to adapt plant and mining equipment to the “best available techniques” have been slow.
The Committee finds that Greek regulations satisfy all the requirements concerning information to the public about and their participation in the procedure for approving environmental criteria for projects and activities. However, the circumstances surrounding the granting and extension of several authorisations, and the publication on the Internet of such a complex document as the NAP1 for just four days, show that in practice the Greek authorities do not apply the relevant legislation satisfactorily.
The Committee considers that the government does not provide sufficiently precise information to amount to a valid education policy aimed at persons living in lignite mining areas. Finally, very little has so far been done to organise systematic epidemiological monitoring of those concerned and no morbidity studies have been carried out.
(ii) by 9 votes to 1 that there is no violation of Article 3§1 of the Charter.
The Committee notes that Article 3 of the Charter (right to safe and healthy working conditions) grants everyone the right to a work environment that does not pose risks for their health and safety. Article 3§1 obliges governments to issue health and safety regulations providing for preventive and protective measures against workplace risks recognised by the scientific community and laid down in Community and international regulations and standards.
The Committee notes that occupational risks are covered by sickness and invalidity insurance in the same way as non-occupational accidents or diseases. It does not consider that states are required to introduce specific insurance to comply with Article 3§1.
(iii) unanimously that there is violation of Article 3§2 of the Charter.
The Committee considers that states have a duty to provide precise and plausible explanations and information on developments in the number of occupational accidents and on measures taken to monitor the application of regulations and thus prevent accidents. In this case, Greece is in breach of its obligation to monitor the enforcement of regulations on health and safety at work properly, given that the government acknowledges the shortage of supervisory staff and cannot supply precise data on the number of accidents in the mining sector.
(iv) unanimously that there is violation of Article 2§4 of the Charter.
The Committee notes that Article 2§4 of the Charter requires states to grant workers exposed to occupational health risks compensation in the form of time off. Greek law does provide for compensation for miners. In this case, however, Greek law does not require collective agreements to provide for compensation in accordance with Article 2§4. The Committee considers therefore that the collective bargaining procedure does not offer sufficient safeguards to ensure compliance with Article 2§4. Moreover, the Committee also notes that the government has taken no subsequent steps to enforce the right embodied in Article 2§4.
Having regard to the information communicated by the Greek delegation on this highly technical issue during the 998th meeting of the Ministers’ Deputies on 13 June 2007,
Takes note of the statement made by the respondent government and of the information it has communicated and welcomes the measures already taken by the Greek authorities as well as further measures envisaged in order to ensure the effective implementation of the rights protected by the European Social Charter (see Appendix).
Appendix to Resolution CM/ResChS(2008)1
During the 998th meeting of the Ministers’ Deputies on 13 June 2007, the Permanent Representative of Greece made the following statement:
“As this case involves issues of a complicated, technical character and in order to facilitate today's discussion, I asked the Secretariat to circulate to all delegations a paper with detailed information provided by the Ministry of Employment and Social Protection of Greece, where you can find a synopsis of the main arguments of the authorities; important clarifications on issues that seem to have been misunderstood; the latest measures taken by the government and progress recently achieved; and further measures Greece is willing to take for the resolution of the case.
Before I start highlighting particular elements of this case and the progress made since the report of the Committee was drafted, allow me to make some general remarks regarding points of importance to my government.
I have been asked to make clear the important contribution of the Kozani-Ptolemais and Megalopolis power plants in the development of the economy of Greece. The continued use of lignite is well justified by the general public interest since lignite enables the country to maintain its energy independence and offers the entire population access to electricity at a reasonable cost, thus contributing to the economic growth and industrial development of Greece at levels comparable to those of other European Union countries.
Having said that, my government fully acknowledges the importance of ensuring that all adequate measures are taken in order to eliminate any eventual hazardous exposure of citizens to power generation emissions and to secure that the environmental performance of the power plants is constantly being improved.
In this respect, I should like to reassure the Committee of Ministers that the Government of Greece remains fully engaged in further pursuing its efforts to ensure the effective implementation of the rights protected by the European Social Charter.
Moreover, my government acknowledges the significant role that civil society, independent bodies and NGOs play in this field and is convinced of the need to work in close co-operation with them.
I have also been asked to renew the expression of the high esteem in which my authorities hold the valuable work of the European Committee of Social Rights and to assure the latter that its reports and assessments are seriously taken into account.
Allow me now to highlight some important elements of this case and then I invite you to look at the more detailed information in the paper distributed.
On the alleged violation of Article 11:
The state has adopted and implemented a series of measures which do not fall short of European standards and which are constantly being improved. I would only mention the latest progress:
- the operation of the highly efficient new Electrostatic Precipitators in Aghios Dimitrios Units I-II, respectively since November and May 2006 (earlier than expected);
- the recent issue of new additional IPPC Environmental Permits to power plants in Aghios Dimitrios and Megalopolis; 2
- the significant progress at a fast pace in the construction of the wet-flue-gas desulphurisation system in Megalopolis Unit III.
As regards the global warming issue, there has been a misunderstanding over the National Allocation Plan of Greece for 2005-2007, which defines the national target for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. According to the latest press release of the European Commission, 3 Greece is going to reach its Kyoto target, which is the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 25% from now to 2010.
As regards local air pollution, all internationally accepted air quality targets and threshold values have been respected and kept under control. There is a constant improvement in ambient air quality, despite the continuous increase of power generation. This is due to the measures imposed on the Public Power Corporation (DEH) and the adoption of the best available techniques (BAT). The ambient air quality in the Kozani-Ptolemais and Megalopolis areas is satisfactory and comparable to other areas in the country, even non-industrial ones. The air quality in the said regions is being monitored and the relevant data is publicly available, is communicated to the local Prefectures and is submitted regularly – at least annually – to the competent agencies.
As regards the epidemiological studies, despite the methodological difficulties associated with them and the caution with which their findings should be used, Greece acknowledges that their value is important. The Government has financially supported – and continues to do so – the work of independent researchers, specialised laboratories and research institutes renowned for their scientific reliability. The report wrongly states that only two epidemiological studies have been commissioned by the state. The fact is that at least one more has been recently completed in Arcadia and another one is currently underway in Florina. The findings of the epidemiological studies carried out have been communicated to the public.
On the alleged violation of Article 32:
In the first quarter of 2007, there has been a significant increase of checks and thorough inspections conducted by the Environmental Inspectorate at all lignite-fired power plants. There has also been an intensification of checks and inspections at the lignite mines by the competent agencies of high expertise of the Ministry of Development. The government, in order to honour its obligation to effectively monitor the enforcement of regulations on health and safety at work, decided to hire, before the end of 2007, more engineers and other specialised personnel (23 in total) to reinforce the monitoring agencies.
On the alleged violation of Article 24:
On the reduced daily working hours, it is important to understand that the Labour Unions which represent the mine personnel have never presented such a demand. In this respect we remain puzzled, as the Committee suggests the intervention of the government in an issue which has not been on the agenda of the people concerned. A most important compensation – that is the right to early retirement –, is secured for the miners by Greek law and needs no special provision – as wrongly cited in the report – in a collective agreement in order to be implemented. The lignite mine workers are also accorded five additional days of paid holidays, a provision which is in compliance with the European Social Charter.
In order to secure further progress, the state is ready to undertake a number of new initiatives and additional measures which figure in the paper we distributed today.
I should now like to kindly ask you, Madame la Présidente, to invite the Committee of Ministers to take note of this paper and the information it contains and to instruct the Secretariat to start preparing the text of a draft resolution, reflecting today's discussion, with the view to adopting it at one of our forthcoming meetings.
In this respect, I would ask the Secretariat to contact this delegation for any clarifications it may need.
Finally, I should like to inform the Committee of Ministers that in 2008, Greece is scheduled to submit a report on the implementation of Articles 3 and 11 of the European Social Charter, whilst in 2009 it shall submit a report on the implementation of Articles 2 and 4. Therefore, the Committee of Ministers can be assured that in the coming years there will be plenty of opportunity to further examine the issues under question and the progress made.”
1 In conformity with Article 9 of the Additional Protocol to the European Social Charter providing for a system of collective complaints, the Contracting Parties to the European Social Charter or to the Revised Social Charter have participated in the vote: Albania, Andorra, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Moldova, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”, Turkey, Ukraine and United Kingdom.
2 J.M.D 94650/12.09.06, 161692/29.05.06 and 158734/19.09.06.
3 27 October 2006 - http://ec.europa.eu/environment/index_en.htm.