Athens set to purge civil service

Posted on August 10, 2012

By Kerin Hope in Athens

Greece is preparing a purge of civil servants deemed to have stepped out of line as it yields to international lenders’ pressure to be more pro-active in cutting public sector jobs.

    Those targeted will include senior officials said to have failed to cut pay levels, and civil servants with a disciplinary record for breaches such as financial malpractice.

    The move follows the rejection by the EU and International Monetary Fund of the coalition government’s proposal to reduce the bloated public sector payroll through natural attrition and a policy of hiring one new official for every 10 who retire.

    As a result, Athens is renewing its commitment to last year’s agreement to axe 150,000 jobs in the public sector by 2015 (about 20 per cent of the total), according to officials struggling to meet an EU-IMF deadline to identify €11.5bn of fresh spending cuts by the end of August.

    The decision by Antonis Samaras, the centre-right prime minister, to pursue civil servants failing to toe the line, taps into widespread popular resentment of their status at a time of record private sector unemployment.

    “The state can act severely provided it has also acted justly,” said Mr Samaras.

    After hitting a record 23.1 per cent in May, the Greek jobless rate is projected to reach 29 per cent next year, according to figures published on Friday by the research institute of the trade union federation GSEE.

    The first sacking under the new policy came on Thursday, when the chief executive of Larco, a state-controlled nickel producer with more than 1,000 employees, was asked to resign because he had failed to implement a 25-per cent wage cut set by the finance ministry for employees at more than 20 public sector corporations.

    Anastasios Barakos’s claim that Larco was not obliged to reduce salaries because its shares had been transferred from the finance ministry to the privatisation agency was “a weak excuse for wrongdoing”, said a government official.

    The finance ministry will investigate other public sector corporations following accusations that executives appointed by previous governments colluded with unions to avoid cutting salaries and perks, keeping employees’ remuneration at more than 20 per cent above levels for similar positions in the private sector, the official said.

    Several thousand officials in the core civil service with a record of suspensions for corruption could also face investigation and possible dismissal under the crackdown.

    An annual report on corruption in the public sector, published last week, listed 1,400 reported cases in 2011, mostly involving officials at tax offices, state hospitals and local government planning bureaux, but said only 400 cases were taken to court.

    Leandros Rakintzis, the public administration inspector, said civil servants were often judged too leniently by their peers, noting that he had filed appeals against almost 200 out of 1,900 decisions by disciplinary committees on the grounds they were not harsh enough.

    An official at ADEDY, the civil service trade union, criticised the crackdown as “a politically inspired plan to win popular support for mass dismissals, even though the two left-of-centre coalition partners have until now opposed them.”

    Senior politicians in the Panhellenic Socialist Movement and the Democratic Left said this week that mass sackings of civil servants went against the coalition’s policy agreement, but stopped short of rejecting the agreement reached with the EU and IMF to reduce the size of the public sector.

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