Greek bill opens way for civil service layoffs
ATHENS - The Associated Press
Demonstrators holding flags gather in front of Parliament in Athens on April 28. Greek trade unions staged a protest ahead of Parliament’s approval of the bill that would spur unprecedented public sector job cuts to meet conditions set by Athens’ creditors for billions in bailout loans. AFP photoGreece’s Parliament approved an emergency bill on April 28 to pave the way for thousands of public sector layoffs and free up 8.8 billion euros ($11.5 billion) in international rescue loans.
The bill, which passed in a 168-123 vote, will allow for the first civil service layoffs in more than a century. About 2,000 civil servants will be laid off by the end of May, with another 2,000 following by the end of the year and a further 11,500 by end-2014, for a total of 15,500.
The legislation is the latest wave of Greece’s draconian austerity program. It agreed this month with its bailout rescue lenders - the European Union and International Monetary Fund - to implement the measures as a condition to receive new emergency loans worth 8.8 billion euros ($11.5 billion).
The legislation makes it easier to fire government employees for disciplinary reasons, extends an unpopular property tax and opens up professions such as accountants and bakers.
Measures to cut Greece’s budget deficit and make its economy competitive are a condition of its 240 billion euro bailout. Athens has already obtained about 200 billion euros of EU/IMF rescue loans since mid-2010.
Austerity policies imposed on Athens as part of the deal have saved it from a chaotic bankruptcy and exit from the euro, at the price of causing its deepest recession in decades.
Constitutional protection overcome
The permanence of civil servant jobs has been enshrined in all constitutions since 1911, a form of protection from wholesale sacking when the government changes hands.
To get around the constitutional protection, the bill stipulates the first layoffs will take place in state agencies that will be disbanded or merged. A provision also aims to bypass, if needed, the notoriously slow and lenient disciplinary councils, which have refused to lay off even people convicted of felonies.
More than 2,000 such cases are pending, nearly 600 on appeal. The civil servants’ union, ADEDY, bitterly opposed the bill’s provisions and called for a protest outside Parliament. Authorities took strict security measures, such as barricading a Parliament entrance since April 28 morning and diverting traffic and shutting down a subway station two hours before the announced start of the protest. In the end, fewer than 300 people showed up. The bill contained many unrelated provisions, from the payment of back taxes and social security contributions to the end of bakeries’ monopoly in baking bread. To shorten debate and to present the bill as a sort of confidence vote, the government bundled 110 pages of legislation into a single article.