ATHENS Greeks are split down the middle on whether public sector job cuts demanded by the country's international lenders for continued bailout funding are necessary and most remain downbeat on the economy's prospects, an opinion poll showed on Saturday.
Greek municipal workers have taken to the streets against government plans to cut thousands of public-sector jobs, measures included in a multi-pronged bill to be voted on in parliament next week as a condition for more payments of aid.
Athens pledged to place 12,500 public sector workers including school guards, teachers and municipal police into a "mobility pool" by September, where they will have eight months to find work in other departments or lose their jobs.
According to the survey by pollster Metron Analysis for newspaper Ependytis, 47 percent of Greeks favor cuts to shrink the public sector but 50 percent think there should be no layoffs.
A 62 percent majority objects to the proposed closure of municipal police services.
Greece is suffering record unemployment after six years of recession. Its unemployment rate is nearly 27 percent, more than double the euro zone's average of 12.2 percent.
"The country's sacred cow is on the butcher's table but some claim (cuts) are being done without a plan under the weight of the country's pledges to its international creditors," Stratos Fanaras, head of Metron, told the paper.
Prime Minister Antonis Samaras defended the cuts in Sunday's Proto Thema newspaper, saying they were needed to get the economy working again and keep funds flowing from Greece's euro zone and International Monetary Fund backers.
"What do you prefer, having school guards doing nothing substantive or nursing staff at public hospitals to care for you?" Samaras told the paper in an interview.
"The measures may be unpleasant for some people but my priority is the 1.5 million unemployed, for whom nobody shed tears," he said.
Less than a week after Greece resolved its latest funding crunch but left some economists warning another debt restructuring in the future was still on the cards, Samaras reiterated his opposition to any further cutbacks.
"I rule it out (austerity), we will continue to prove those who foresee new measures wrong," he told the paper.
The poll showed 40 percent of Greeks believe ongoing reforms are needed to improve the economy but 57 percent sees them chiefly as policies that hurt lower income classes.
Some 70 percent of those surveyed said the economic crisis was worsening and 66 percent expected 2014 to be a worse year but 70 percent were in favor of staying in the euro.
Politically, the ruling conservatives in the two-party coalition government would get 29.1 percent of the vote if elections were held now, versus 28.7 percent for the main leftist opposition anti-bailout Syriza party.
The survey showed no substantial change from a previous Metron poll in June. The coalition's junior partners, socialists PASOK, would take 7.8 percent and the Democratic Left party which quit the coalition last month, 3.2 percent.
(Reporting by George Georgiopoulos; editing by Patrick Graham)