His chair’s not even warm yet but Greece’s new Administrative Reform Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, said he will ask the country’s international lenders to give him a few more months to put together a scheme to start getting rid of redundant state workers to meet a goal of reducing the public sector staff by 15,000 by the end of the year.
It wasn’t good news to start with that the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) said it won’t accept the firings of 2,656 workers at the national broadcaster ERT that was summarily shut down on June 11 – and remains closed in government defiance of a court order to restore the signal – as counting toward the goal.
That’s because Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said he’s going ahead with a restructuring of the station into a new entity to be called NERIT and will rehire 1000-1200 from the former staff.
Mitsotakis met with Troika envoys on July 1 to try to explain why, apart from ERT, not a single public worker has been fired at the same time that the private sector has a record 27.4 percent unemployment and 1.3 million people out of work as austerity measures imposed by the government have crippled growth and nearly stopped spending by Greeks crushed by pay cuts, tax hikes and slashed pensions.
Mitsotakis – as have several of his predecessors who failed to do so – is trying to organize a so-called mobility scheme, which is government shorthand for laying people off for a year with further reduced wages before firing them if vacant spots can’t be found for them, unlikely since the Troika wants the public sector cut by 150,000 workers over the next three years.
Greece’s civil service has been hugely bloated by decades of hiring needless workers by alternating administrations of the New Democracy Conservatives, now under Samaras, and the PASOK Socialists, now under Evangelos Venizelos, who are sharing power despite being blamed for creating the crisis.
Troika officials were in Athens to review progress and decide whether to approve the release of the next loan installment, this one for 8.1 billion euros, some $10.47 billion amid reports that the government was given until the end of July 5 to make progress on reforms or face the money being held up, although the European Commission denied that was the case.
Mitsotakis said he needs more time although successive governments have failed to act for three years. “We are talking about several months. It is clear that this cannot happen in a few days or a few weeks,” Mitsotakis told private SKAI TV.
“That is so the job is done properly … I am not the minister who would impose arbitrary criteria and say that everyone who is over 1.85 meters tall, is bald and wears glasses will be placed in the mobility scheme.”
The government is hoping to wrap up negotiations with the Troika by the weekend so that the next bailout payments can be considered at a meeting of Eurozone finance ministers on July 8.
Debt inspectors were in talks for more than seven hours with several cabinet officials at the finance ministry on July 2 to discuss the civil service reductions and other pressing problems, including mounting debts at the country’s main health insurer EOPYY, which has a huge hole in its finances.
The transfer program is separate from a government commitment to fire 4,000 civil servants by the end of the year – a pledge that triggered the recent crisis in the coalition government and led to the tiny Democratic Left (DIMAR) leaving the previous coalition.
Meanwhile, fired ERT employees have remained at their posts, citing a high court decision that found the decision to switch off the terrestrial signal to be illegal, and are continuing unauthorized programming online. Samaras has ignored a ruling by the country’s highest court, the Council of State, to restore the signal, a common practice by Greek leaders who tend to to obey only rulings they agree with and disregard those they don’t.