A CHARTERED Greek civil engineer must work in Britain for three years before he can work in his homeland, Greek authorities said this week.
George Michalatos, 54, has been a chartered member of the ICE for 15 years and has 24 years' industry experience in South Africa, where he was educated.
He returned to Greece in 1994 and was able to work for foreign companies. But since 2002 he has been seeking work with local Greek firms, and has been unable to get a job. This is because of Greece's interpretation of European Union (EU) rules on mutually recognised qualifications.
The Greek Ministry of Education is thought to be acting in accordance with the European directive 89/48/EU, which allows professionals to work in different EU countries.
It says holders of non-European degrees and EU member state professional qualifications can only work in the EU after three years' work experience in the country issuing their qualification.
But Michalatos feels he is too old to uproot and move to the UK to seek work experience. He has appealed to the Greek authorities saying that the ICE qualification is recognised worldwide and should be accepted by Greece.
'But they [the Greek authorities] just said that the ICE was only internationally recognised because it collected subscriptions internationally, ' said Michalatos.
Greece transposed the 89/48/EU directive into Greek law in the form of a presidential decree in 2000.
European specialists in professional recognition believe that Greece has interpreted the EU directive in its strictest sense to protect the work of homegrown engineers.
Obtaining a licence to practise as a civil engineer in Greece usually follows a five-year degree at a Greek university followed by an exam. The EU directive only requires engineers to have a three-year degree from a member state country.
'Greece is acting in accordance with the directive, but is showing very little flexibility, ' said ICE European affairs manager Oivind Grimsmo.
'Unless the Greek Technical Chamber (TEE) takes a more practical view, it will be difficult to tackle the directive, ' he added. The TEE is the professional licensing body in Greece.
The ICE has sent letters to the ministry confirming that Michalatos is chartered and explained that this is a measure of international professional competence.
'It's difficult to see what more we can do for Michalatos, ' said Grimsmo. He added that the EU directive was under review to make it more flexible, but that no formal publication date had been set.
'I pleaded with the ministry to treat my case as special. I have 24 years' experience and they are treating me like a new graduate, ' said Michalatos Greek education ministry official Marina Koumoundorou, who has worked on the case, sympathises with Michalatos' situation. 'I don't doubt his qualifications, but there are no exceptions to the regulations, ' she said, adding that there were other similar cases in Greece.
But Carsten Ahrens, professional recognition task force chairman of the European Council of Civil Engineers (ECCE), believes that Greece is being unfair.
He said: 'If the ICE awards the licence to practise as a chartered engineer under the Washington Accord, then Greece should accept it too.'
The Washington Accord is the agreement under which the UK and South Africa would mutually recognise chartered engineer status.
Michalatos has also tried to get his degree recognised by Dikatsa, the Greek authority that recognises foreign qualifications.
He was told that, as his degree lacked a written thesis, he would need to complete a Masters course in Greece before being allowed to practise there.
The case is now with the Greek Ministry of Education, which will return its verdict in the next four months.
George Michalatos: CV
George Michalatos has a BSc in civil engineering from the University of Witwatersand, Johannesburg, and a postgraduate diploma in engineering.
He was registered as a professional engineer by the South African Institution of Civil Engineers in 1987 and became a member of the ICE (MICE) in 1989.
He worked for 20 years as a design engineer in South Africa before returning to Athens in 1994. He was then employed as a project engineer with an Arab company based in Athens until 2000, when he started working for a British telecommunications company upgrading Greece's telecom infrastructure to meet high-speed internet connection requirements. This work ended at the end of 2002.
Unable to find another foreign company in Athens to take him on, Michalatos now believes his age could be holding him back from finding employment with local firms.