Here is why Athens is taking the axe to state jobs: Greece’s public sector employs around 700,000 or 800,000 people. Exact estimates are hard to find. What is certain is the drain this has placed on the small country’s finances, starting in the 1980s.
Both the left and right in politics used the system, rewarding supporters with jobs. With every political power shift, the public sector grew, as more people were hired.
Haralambos Koutalakis, a lecturer on public administration at Athens University, said: “Over the years the two big parties have created a large public sector mainly with clientelistic processes of employing people and that is going to be very difficult to change because it requires a whole reorganisation of the way that services are run and of the way that things are done in the public sector.”
About 20 percent of the working population is some sort of civil servant, in a job that has been guaranteed for life under the constitution. Today’s plan under the Socialist government is to reduce salaries and staff numbers by 20 percent by 2015. It is looking at putting 30,000 workers into what it is calling a “labour reserve”, paying them 60 percent of their salaries for 12 months, while they are supposed to find other work, and then giving them the sack.
The layoffs would be a break with the constitution. This was established a hundred years ago, to end the practice of incoming governments firing employees under the previous one.
The public sector is bloated and inefficient but getting a job in it has been a national prize for decades. While the Greek average monthly wage is around 700 euros, a civil servant starts at 800, and bonuses can push that to 1,300 a month.
Koutalakis said: “There is a huge amount of voters of both big parties who are working for the public sector and this of course is going to cost them politically. Today the Greeks don’t see any perspective – any way out of this crisis and that is very important, because it explains a lot. It explains the consensus, it explains the moral of getting through this difficult time. I think that’s pretty much hard work for any government but I think they have to work on it.”
Civil servants will fight to keep their rights, though even if they lose them, it is no guarantee it will save the country, as the debt crisis and political crisis merge further.
The current plan calls for many tens of thousands of more public job cuts in the next four years.