Public sector job cuts gather pace
In July 2013, the Greek government confirmed the use of ‘non-active’ and ‘mobility’ job status for civil servants as key tools in its efforts to make far-reaching structural changes in the public sector. The government wants to speed up progress towards the target set in various agreements with the Troika to cut 25,000 public sector jobs by the end of 2014. A wave of strikes has been staged by teachers, healthcare staff and other public servants in response and more action is expected.
Public sector reforms in Greece began long before the country’s first bailout package was negotiated with the Troika in the spring of 2010 (GR1202019I). However, the reforms continued as part of Greece’s obligations under the terms of the loan negotiated with the European Union (EU), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Central Bank (ECB), and a target was set to retire or dismiss 25,000 public servants by the end of 2014. As part of this process, 12,500 were to be placed in ‘non-active’ or ‘mobility’ status by the end of 2013, and a further 12,500 by the end of 2014. It is envisaged that many of these people would be re-employed in other positions, but a significant proportion will be dismissed.
Speeding up the process of reform
In an effort to speed up this process, the Greek government has introduced a new institutional framework through Law 4172/2013, Income Taxation: urgent measures for the implementation of Law 4046/2012, Law 4093/2012 and Law 4127/2013 and other provisions.
According to Article 90 of the new framework:
Job positions may be abolished (per category, sector, specialty) in the public sector and in the local government by decree of the Minister of Administrative Reform and of the Minister concerned, upon documentation supported by evaluation reports of structures and staffing plans.
Employees in these abolished positions are defined as ‘non-active’, regarded as having a peculiar status as ‘non-workers’ which lasts for eight months. During this period, they will receive 75% of their basic earnings. They are also considered to have ‘mobility’ status, and this means that if possible they will be employed in another position within the public sector. If at the end of the eight-month period no new job has been found, the worker may be dismissed.
Article 91 of the new framework deals with the transfer of employees from the public sector and local government to other agencies or organisations where there are vacant posts that correspond to the employee’s skills. The aim of this measure is to make the best use of existing human resources. This transfer process is obligatory, and a former public sector worker can be moved to a non-public sector job without their permission.
Abolition of job positions
The law expressly provides for the abolition of a number of specific jobs, including:
- school guards, placed in ‘non-active’ status since 9 July 2013;
- municipal police throughout Greece, placed in ‘mobility’ status since 23 September 2013, although provision is made for their integration in the Hellenic Police;
- professors in specific disciplines working in secondary technical and vocational education throughout Greece, placed in ‘non-active’ status since 22 July 2013.
Measures covering the retirement of civil servants were provided for in previous Memoranda agreed between the Greek government and the Troika (enacted in Law 4046/2012 and Law 4093/2012).
The new law aims to simplify and accelerate the job abolition process in the public sector and the implementation of the commitments made to the Troika that, by the end of 2014:
- a total of 25,000 employees must be placed in non-active/mobility status, the majority of whom shall be moved to other positions;
- 15,000 employees must retire or be dismissed, some of whom will be civil servants who have already been placed in mobility status.
Immediately after Law 4172/13 was passed, the government released a list of occupations and numbers of employees who would be placed in non-active or mobility status. This list included:
- 2,114 teachers in technical vocational education (reduced from the initial announcement of 2,600);
- 2,234 school guards (up from 2,200 in the initial announcement);
- 3,521 municipal police officers;
- 1,665 employees and medical staff in the Ministry of Health, who were working in eight hospitals in Athens and Thessaloniki that closed down on 27 August 2013.
The government’s intention is to reduce the total number of hospitals in Greece from 132 to 80.
The new Minister of Administrative Reform, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, argued for the need to evaluate personnel on merit before civil servants are retired, but also for the need to reduce the number of civil servants. He said the introduction of mobility and non-active statuses was important for the restructuring and efficiency of the public sector.
The Minister of Education, Konstantinos Arvanitopoulos, said that the abolition of teachers’ posts in specific subject areas was intended to end confusion in the labour market caused by the overlap between different levels of education.
In the health sector, according to the Minister of Health, Adonis Georgiadis, private sector principles will be applied although former hospital employees will be placed in mobility status and will cover needs in other positions.
The numbers of the employees in the areas detailed above who are to be put in non-active or mobility status has been finalised. However, the search is underway for more employees in other parts of the public sector who can be placed in non-active status.
In September, it was announced in a series of ministerial decrees that the following numbers of employees would be placed in non-active status.
- 1,765 administrative staff in higher and technological educational institutes, representing 25% of all personnel in these establishments.
- 1,929 jobs in nine ministries including finance, development, transport, labour, defence and culture.
- 12,500 workers in the arms industry and other services.
The final number of employees who will face dismissal or retirement from the public sector in these fields has not yet been decided.
The original deadline for finalising details of the first tranche of 12,500 employees for placement in non-active/mobility status was the end of December 2013. At the last meeting with Troika representatives on 24 September 2013, Adminstrative Reform Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis asked for a two-month extension of the deadline to the end of February 2014. At the same time, a proposal to recruit ‘highly qualified and specialised personnel’ was discussed, at a ratio of one person hired to one person dismissed. This forms part of a previous agreement reached earlier in 2013 with the Troika that provides for the possibility of recruiting 15,000 new specialised employees for the public sector by 2014.
Throughout the two days during which the new law was debated, a series of strikes and demonstrations were held to protest against the implementation of non-active status and the dismissals of employees.
The Civil Servants’ Confederation (ADEDY) and the Pan-Hellenic Federation of Workers Associations of the Local Government (POE-OTA) called a two-day strike on 16 and 17 July, while the Greek General Confederation of Labour (GSEE) called a strike on 16 July and a rally in the afternoon of 17 July. Thousands of people gathered in front of the Greek parliament on 16 July, led by municipal police officers on motorcycles. The main slogan of the demonstrations was: ‘We are humans and will not become numbers’. Messages of solidarity were sent by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC).
Town halls were closed on 15 July 2013, while hospitals operated with emergency staff only during the two-day strike.
The Greek Federation of Secondary School Teachers (OLME) strongly criticised the drawing up of a list of teachers to be declared non-active before the bill was even passed, saying that proposed abolition of specific subject areas and departments will lead to a decline in the quality of technical education.
There were further protest rallies in September and a key demand of participants was an end to non-active status and public sector dismissals.
Industrial action held during September included:
- a five-day strike by OLME members who are secondary school teachers, from 16 to 20 September, in which 90% participated on the first day and 80% on the second day. The strike action continued with further repeat strikes;
- a two-day strike by school teacher members of ADEDY and POE-OTA from 18 to 19 September;
- a three-day strike by hospital doctors from 17 to 19 September;
- five-day repeat strikes by employees in social insurance departments;
- a four-hour stoppage by GSEE members in the private sector on 18 September;
- sit-ins by pupils and students to express solidarity with the strikers.
Continuing industrial action
There were riots on 16 September 2013 as police attempted to disperse hundreds of school guards who had staged a protest demonstration and symbolic sit-in at the Ministry of Administrative Reform. The police used chemicals to disperse the crowd and a meeting between the demonstrators and the minister came to nothing. The school guards’ demands for transfers to other positions and the retirement of those who are close to pension age was also dismissed.
Strike action also took place in the higher education sector, where administrative employees and professors staged repeated strikes against impending employee dismissals.
The authorities at higher educational institutes and technological educational institutes closed several colleges, saying they did not have enough staff to operate.
ADEDY called a new 48-hour strike from 24 to 25 September 2013, and employees from across the public sector, including the Inland Revenue, hospitals and health centres, OLME members and the Greek Primary Teachers’ Federation (DOE), walked out. Strike action and demonstrations by university administrative staff continues.
On 1 October 2013, the Pan-Hellenic Federation of Employees in Public Hospitals (POEDIN) appealed in the Higher Court against the ministerial decision to eliminate 1,665 ‘organic – personal’ job positions (that is, permanent public servants) in the hospital sector and place employees in non-active status. ADEDY made a similar court appeal against the legislation, which has been accepted. Further developments are expected soon.
There was no objective evaluation process before employees were removed from their jobs, nor are these measures part of an integrated project to upgrade and modernise the public sector. The government proceeded without fully investigating the possibility of placing existing personnel in other positions where they might be needed.
This policy has triggered turmoil, insecurity and unrest not just among public sector employees, but in Greek society as a whole. Apart from the great confusion caused among public sector employees, the manner in which the measures have been implemented appears to be intended to reduce the number of civil servants and so fulfil the commitments made to the Troika, rather than at making the public sector more efficient.
Meanwhile, essential services such as education and health appear to have declined in quality and accessibility as a result of the dismissals.
Penny Georgiadou, Labour Institute of Greek General Confederation of Labour (INE- GSEE)