|A municipal police officer holds a Greek flag during a protest in front of the parliament on Monday|
By Kerin Hope
July 16 2013
Four thousand state employees, from teachers and broadcasters to municipal police officers and janitors, face dismissal by December in the first official cull of Greece’s overstaffed civil service in more than six decades.
After missing a June 30 deadline set by international lenders, the governing coalition must this week push legislation through parliament enabling the sackings or risk losing a critical €6.8bn tranche of bailout aid. The vote in parliament takes place on Wednesday.
Resistance to a reform that deals a blow to Greece’s clientelistic political system remains strong, however. On Monday more than 200 mayors across the country shut down municipal services, including rubbish collection, to protest against the sackings. Public sector unions called a one-day nationwide general strike for Tuesday and a march to parliament.
The measure has angered lawmakers in both the centre-right New Democracy and Panhellenic Socialist Movement (Pasok), the coalition partners, many of whom rely on “rousfetia” – carrying out political favours – for their constituents to win re-election.
Yet some state employees recognise the game is up. Twenty-four-year-old Paris, who declined to give his second name, says he expects to be among the first to be fired. A high-school dropout, he joined the Athens municipal police thanks to a family connection with a former mayor.
“People like me who came in through the back door don’t have much chance of getting a transfer to another department in this shake-up, even though I know my parents will use all the influence they have to save my skin,” he says.
While dismissals this year will amount to less than 1 per cent of the civil service payroll, they send a message that a longstanding taboo on firing public sector workers has been broken, according to Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the newly appointed minister for public administration, who worked for the consultants McKinsey before entering politics.
The son of a former prime minister known for making thousands of rousfeti appointments during his political career, Mr Mitsotakis says he wants to make a clean break with the past.
“The crisis has brought the end of the old system and created an opportunity to set up one based on different criteria in which people who significantly underperform are admonished but those who work well are rewarded,” Mr Mitsotakis told the FT.
“But it has to be done with internal logic and a sense of justice. For example, we don’t intend to sack people who have passed the higher civil service exam and have language skills – unless their documents turn out to be forged,” he said.
Those sacked will come from a pool of 25,000 civil servants being transferred this year to a special “mobility programme” on reduced pay where they can apply for jobs elsewhere in the civil service. Another 11,000 workers will be fired in 2014, according to the bailout agreement.
Even though jobs for life are no longer guaranteed, procedures for sacking can be long drawn-out. About 6,000 state employees whose temporary contracts have ended, including janitors, cleaners and gardeners, are being paid in full while they contest their dismissal in the courts. The government has agreed to settle all such disputes this year.
If all goes according to plan, Greece will be permitted by its international creditors – the EU and International Monetary Fund – to hire 15,000 new civil servants to fill specialised positions as part of a ministry-by-ministry overhaul of the system.
Critics of the reform say the government is going for a quick fix, pointing to a sudden decision last month to shut down the public broadcaster ERT and sack its 2,600-strong workforce. The move backfired following a court ruling temporarily reinstating the employees while the broadcaster is being restructured, triggering the departure from the government of Democratic Left, the junior coalition partner.
“It’s being done in a haphazard way to appease the troika [the EU and IMF] and to postpone political costs . . . the groups being targeted are not the inefficient hard core of the civil service,” said Takis Michas, a political commentator.
Most jobs will be lost in peripheral services: the municipal police will be disbanded with some members moving to the regular police force, while dozens of vocational training schools and smaller hospitals will be shut down. Some teachers and doctors will be offered jobs at other institutions.
“A few highly skilled professionals will get transfers but for most of us the mobility programme is just a euphemism for getting fired . . . with not much chance of getting something in the private sector,” said Lena Papazoglou, an administrator at a provincial hospital slated for closure next year.
Yet popular opposition to sacking civil servants has declined as unemployment in the private sector has climbed, reaching a record 26.9 per cent in April. One opinion poll published last week showed 62 per cent support for reducing the public sector payroll, up from 40 per cent a year ago.