Greece approves scheme to fire thousands of public workers

ATHENS Wed Jul 17, 2013 6:57pm EDT

1 of 5. Municipal public school guard Yiorgos Avramidis (C), 43, married with two children of three and six, from the northern Greek town of Edessa, and other colleagues sit in front of a police line guarding the Greek parliament in Athens, late July 17, 2013, as Greece's shaky coalition government scraped through a vote on a bill to sack public sector workers.

Credit: Reuters/Yannis Behrakis

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ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece's shaky coalition government scraped through a vote on Wednesday on a bill to sack public sector workers as thousands chanting anti-austerity slogans protested outside parliament.

The vote was the first major test for Prime Minister Antonis Samaras's two-party coalition since losing an ally over the abrupt shutdown of the state broadcaster last month, which left it with a scant five-seat majority in the 300-seat parliament.

After midnight on Wednesday, 153 lawmakers out of the 293 present voted in favor of the bill, whose passage was required to unlock nearly 7 billion euros ($9.2 billion) in aid from European Union and International Monetary Fund lenders.

The bill includes deeply divisive plans for a transfer and layoff scheme for 25,000 public workers - mainly teachers and municipal police - that had triggered a week of almost daily marches, rallies and strikes in protest.

About 5,000 Greeks flooded the street outside parliament as the vote neared, with some chanting: "We will not succumb, the only option is to resist" and holding aloft black balloons - though turnout was much smaller than in protests last year.

"After 12 years on the job, they fire us in one night," Patra Hatziharalampous, a 52-year-old school guard in uniform said between sobs. "If they have any guts, they should say no to the bailout and take some of the bill's articles back."

The reforms were passed hours before German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble - Europe's leading proponent of austerity blamed by many Greeks for their woes - arrives in Athens for his first visit to Greece since the debt crisis began in 2009.

Before the vote, Samaras announced Greece's first tax cut since its crisis began nearly four years ago, in a bid to placate protests and an increasingly restive public mood.

"We will not relax," Samaras said in a surprise television address to announce that value-added tax (VAT) in restaurants would be cut to 13 percent from 23 percent starting August 1.

"We will continue climbing up the hill, we will reach the top, which is not far, and better days will come for our people."

In a clip that became an instant hit on social media site Twitter, television stations accidentally showed Samaras fumbling at an initial attempt to read the statement and swearing "Damn my head, ******" as he walked off the podium.

"DRAWING BLOOD"

The government had made a show of arguing for the restaurant VAT cut during its latest talks with lenders, and analysts said the move was a symbolic attempt to show austerity-hit Greeks that there was light at the end of the tunnel.

Samaras said the cut would help curb tax evasion, a major problem in the country and one of the reasons it slid into a debt crisis in 2009, but warned that if evasion persisted VAT would revert to 23 percent.

"The crucial thing is that it was announced now and not after the summer," said Thomas Gerakis, head of Marc Pollsters. "How it will benefit consumers remains to be seen."

Athens has been limping along on two bailouts worth over 240 billion euros ($315 billion) since 2010, which it has secured at the price of wage cuts and tax rises that have triggered a six-year recession and sent unemployment to 27 percent.

The latest bill agreed with lenders includes a luxury tax on houses with swimming pools and owners of high performance cars.

But the move that has drawn the most anger is the plan to place 25,000 workers into the layoff scheme by the end of 2013, giving them eight months to find another position or get laid off. Greece's public sector is widely seen as oversized, inefficient and filled with patronage hires, but many Greeks believe society can no longer go tolerate cuts or tax hikes.

Uniformed municipal police, garbage collectors in orange vests and hundreds of other public sector workers have taken to the streets of Athens almost daily on motorbikes in over a week of protests, blowing whistles, honking horns and blaring sirens.

(Additional reporting by Angeliki Koutantou and Karolina Tagaris; Writing by Deepa Babington; Editing by Michael Roddy)

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Comments (6)
OneOfTheSheep wrote:
“…the move that has drawn the most anger is the plan to place 25,000 workers into the layoff scheme by the end of 2013, giving them eight months to find another position or get laid off. Greece’s public sector is widely seen as oversized, inefficient and filled with patronage hires…”.

This has been going on now for HOW LONG? And ONLY NOW is meaningful action being taken to correct this nonsense? NO WONDER Greece is in such financial difficulty as to require huge loans, and NO WONDER the EU is going to expect Greece to reduce it’s profligate spending.

Jul 17, 2013 10:38pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
ALALAYIIIAAAA wrote:
OneOfTheSheep @
i got many friends in greece (actually i visit greece every two years) and they are complaining about the services these workers give every day.Most of them are absent from their work and they give their card to their collegue pass it through the machinery and being justified while they are on vacation.more over the municipal policemen were perfoming tasks (???) like what? they dont make arrests they dont carry gun and their job to throw away the illegal street-traders from the center of athens has failed.its not troikas fault dont you think?in addition my greeks friends told me that nobody from public sector has protested so far for the private sector’s lay-offs

Jul 18, 2013 2:10am EDT  --  Report as abuse
Labros wrote:
To OneOfTheSheep:

Yes, firing people in the public sector has been delayed for way too long because of the huge political cost. It is ridiculous. But the fact that we come to the so naive conclusion and argument “no wonder Greece is in such financial difficulty” etc etc, is a sad reminder of the power of impressions and selective reporting.

The country has enacted many other HUGE reforms that is difficult to imagine for any other nation (firing these employees would have a much smaller effect on the state budget – and, anyway, there is a reduction in their number by not replacing those retiring).

In 3 years this country has reduced the budget deficit (excluding, of course, one-off bank bailouts) by 10 (!!!!) percentage points – and that during a severe recession. This should be a record in world history if am not wrong.

It would simply help to look at facts and data rather than repeat words we hear around.

Jul 18, 2013 6:15am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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