Public sector reform bill a “tombstone” for Greek workers

 

Thousands of Greek workers protested against new austerity measures, as a controversial new law that axes thousands of public sector jobs was being approved by a razor-thin majority in parliament, on Wednesday.

The fourth general strike this year was called by ADEDY and GSEE, the public and private sector trade union federations respectively, which represent around 2.5 million workers.

The strike was preceded by protests by teachers and education workers against layoffs and school closures.

Trade unions ADEDY, GSEE, and members of the POE-OTA municipal workers trade union, also held a rally in central Athens on Tuesday morning, followed by a march to the national parliament building.

Nikolaos Kioutsoukis, General Secretary of Greece’s largest union, the GSEE, told gathered protesters: "You politicians, kowtowing to the troika, have raped our souls, destroyed our lives."

"Do not test our patience any longer ... We are hungry, jobless and poor. We have nothing to fear and nothing to lose."

 

“No more sacrifices”

The education workers’ action was the latest in a series of strikes and protests by workers facing unemployment, wage cuts and deepening poverty.

Tuesday strikes affected city transport, garbage collection, domestic flights, bank services and hospital care.

The Acropolis, the main tourist attraction in Athens, closed early. In addition, municipal employees, who are also going to be affected by the new austerity measures, have been on strike since Monday.

However, crucially for the country’s tourist season, ferry services to the Greek islands were unaffected.

PAME, the trade union of the Greek Communist Party (KKE) organised a separate rally.

Outside the parliament in Athens, protesters chanted "No more sacrifices" and waved banners that read "Fire the troika" in reference to the trio of the European Commission, European Central Bank (ECB) and International Monetary Fund (IMF) that has been providing the country with loans for the past three years, in exchange for harsh fiscal measures and violent structural reforms.

Passing the civil service reform bill was a pre-requisite to unlocking the latest round of bailout money from the European Union and IMF, which amounts to over seven million euros.

According to police figures, at least 16,000 demonstrators turned out in Athens and 7,000 in Thessaloniki, the country’s second biggest city, as the divisive new bill dictates the redeployment (“mobility”) of thousands of civil servants, including municipal police, who have already been hit by sweeping pay and pension cuts over the past three years.

Vasilis Polymeropoulos, the ADEDY Vice President called the bill “a tragic mistake,” just before it was passed.

Costas Askounis, leader of the protesting Central Union of Municipalities, said: “We are not opposed to reform. Instead what we do oppose is abolishing entire institutions like the municipal police and personnel to guard state schools.”

As a direct result of the vote, 4,200 civil servants, including teachers, school wardens and municipal police, will be placed in a so-called “mobility reserve program” that subjects them to involuntary transfers, and possible dismissals.

They will receive 75 per cent of their salary for an eight-month period, at the end of which, if they have not accepted a transfer to some other administrative department, they risk losing their jobs.

Leading union GSEE called the bill a “tombstone” for Greek workers from the IMF and the other countries using the euro.

 

Record unemployment

The Greek public sector had so far been spared from the job cuts that have hit the rest of the Greek economy – and pushed unemployment up to 27 percent – since the country got its first international bailout in 2010.

Now however, the government has been forced to introduce the new legislation and launch the cuts – 15,000 layoffs by the end of 2014 and 12,500 placements in a mobility-scheme – in order for Greece to receive the next package of international bailout funds.

Part of the layoffs quota came last month, when the government shut down state broadcaster ERT, sacking over 2,600 staff.

As a result of the broadcaster’s shock shutdown, the conservative-led government of Antonis Samaras lost a junior coalition partner last month and is now governing with a reduced five-seat majority in Parliament.

Greece, the first country to receive a European Union bailout more than three years ago, is struggling to bring its huge public debt under control.

The Greek economy is in its sixth straight year of recession, with unemployment standing at a record high of 27 percent.

The jobless rate amongst young people has reached a record-high of 64 percent.

The German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble is visited Athens on Thursday to discuss the country’s austerity course.

The government announced that all strikes and rallies in Athens are banned for the day of Schäuble’s visit.