Greece starts firing civil servants for first time in a century - CSMonitor.com

Franco Flores

Franco Flores

Pushed by its European creditors amid its crippling economic crisis, Greece began this week to do something it has done in more than 100 years: Following weeks of tough negotiations with its lenders - the troika of the International Monetary Fund, the European Union, and the European Central Bank - the Greek government started laying off public sector workers in an effort to implement the austerity that the troika has demanded. The first two civil servants were on Wednesday under a new law that speeds up the process - one, the policeman, for stealing debit cards, and the other for 110 days of unexcused absence.

The mass layoffs were announced last week in a televised address by the Greek prime minister himself, Antonis Samaras. Despite the massive unemployment in Greece, the goal of the government has become the laying off of 180,000 civil servants by 2015. "This is not a human sacrifice," Prime Minister Samaras said. of Greek society. "

Samaras though, promised new positions to be created:" An equal number [of employees] will be hired on merit, "he added. layoffs

Civil servants' jobs have been protected by a law that dates back to the 1880s, which became enshrined in the century-old Greek constitution.

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"The logic [behind this law] was that the public administration has to be politically independent, feel secure, and ensure the state's continuity, "said Dimitris Charala mbis, professor of political science at the University of Athens.

Further, although the law had allowed the firing of civil servants convicted of misappropriation of public funds and other serious crimes or when their jobs were phased out, the civil servants were still guaranteed to right to appeal. The appeal process could take two to three years, during which they were able to remain at work.

The law was changed last November to speed up the appeal process and suspended civil servants charged with crimes. "The civil servants, who are charged for disciplinary offenses, have the right to a hearing before the disciplinary council of the civil service and a right to appeal, "says George Katrougalos, professor of law at the Demokritos University of Thrace.

But while the law now strengthens the government's ability to fire civil servants, it also makes the workers more vulnerable - the particular problem amid Greece's politically charged economic struggles. This week, for example, the teacher was suspended after he was arrested during an anti-austerity demonstration - a situation more common as of late.

Not a size problem?

Since 2010 , when the economic crisis began, public debate over the public sector's size has grown.

And while the troika has demanded the Greek government shed jobs over the past few years, the public administration has lost about 140,000 posts, from a total of about 700,000. [And now] as the ministry of administrative reform has admitted, there are serious problems in many [public] services, especially social ones, "says Katrougalos.

"The problem is not its size," says Katrougalos, "but the fact that it is irrationally organized, overgrown in some areas and underdeveloped in others, especially in the welfare sector."

• Marina Rigou contributed to this report.