ATHENS – Greece’s already uneasy coalition government is fraying further as a dispute has developed between Conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and his Leftist partners, who said they will not go along with a plan being considered to lay off scores of thousands of public workers.
Samaras, the New Democracy leader, is trying to convince PASOK Socialist head Evangelos Venizelos and Democratic Left chief Fotis Kouvelis that Greece must proceed with putting at least 15,000 workers into a so-called labor reserve pool. They would take a 40 percent pay cut during a year-long layoff and almost certainly be fired after that.
The Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) that is lending Greece $152 billion in rescue loans but withholding a second package for $173 billion until Greece cuts another $14.16 billion in spending over the next two years, wants the workforce reduced by 150,000 over the next two years. Greece is struggling through an economic crisis caused largely by alternating New Democracy and PASOK governments hiring hundreds of thousands of unneeded workers in return for votes.
But Kouvelis, who has largely acceded to whatever Samaras wants, is reportedly balking at going along with the labor reserve pool scheme that is antithetical to the Democratic Left’s constituency as talk was growing that some of his Members of Parliament were ready to rebel. A previous government put forth the idea before but abandoned it and he said it should do so again.
“The measure was a fiasco. I will not support a fiasco,” he told reporters. Venizelos said he also had reservations and said there should not be any layoffs, although that means Greece would have to keep paying redundant workers. Labor unions are a large part of the support for the two Leftist parties. Government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou told SKAI TV that, “All possibilities are up for discussion,” and said once the government agrees on a course that it would be presented to the Troika.
Mega TV said Kouvelis was also upset that the idea was floated in the media before it was presented to him or Venizelos. Finance Minister Yiannis Stournaras first told reporters, leaving Kouvelis and Venizelos to first hear of it on television. The government is also reportedly considering more deep cuts in pensions, including the lump sum earned by pensioners, and further reductions in spending in health care and abolishing or merging defunct state bodies. No mention was made of tax evaders costing the country $70 billion and who have largely escaped unpunished while the government has targeted workers, pensioners, the poor and society’s most vulnerable population.