Athens approves public worker cuts
ATHENS - Reuters
A municipal public school guard sits in front of a police line guarding the Greek Parliament in Athens where the Greek government approved a bill that includes a layoff scheme for 25,000 public workers on July 17. REUTERS photosGreece’s shaky coalition government scraped through a vote 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 July 17, 153 lawmakers out of the 293 present voted in favour 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 troika, have become a target in protests but EU Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn defended it yesterday saying the monitoring team was essential to restoring eurozone credibility.
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.
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.
Joblessness at 27 pct
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 Aug. 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.”
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.