The Greek government faces the unenviable task of cutting tens of thousands of public sector jobs as demanded by Eurozone officials in exchange for the next tranche of bailout money for the beleaguered nation.
According to reports, Greece expects to generate at least 6.3 billion euros in annual savings from the impending job cuts. The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that the parliament is divided over the proposed redundancies, with several ministries failing to provide a list of workers to be let go.
The cabinet will reportedly study the subject at an extraordinary meeting scheduled for Sunday, in which the country’s draft 2012 budget is also expected to be approved.
One unnamed minister told WSJ: “It’s an extremely difficult process. Problems vary from constitutional restraints on firing permanent staff, to real needs for even more staff in education, police and hospitals, to resistance from heads of departments to put together lists of colleagues that basically will at some point be fired.”
The Greek public sector is huge -- it reportedly accounts for at least one-fifth of all the country's jobs. Aside from a bloated bureaucracy, the Greek economy is also marred by high rates of tax evasion and official corruption.
The EU wants 200,000 of public workers fired by the end of 2012, with 30,000 of those closest to retirement age to be gone by the end of this year.
One major obstacle to the proposed wave of job cuts is that the Greek Constitution virtually guarantees civil servants jobs for life.
We want the criteria regarding the labor reserve to be objective, a government official said, according to WSJ. The problem is very complicated. If someone wants to find constitutional objections, they will find them.
Even without all these envisioned cuts, unemployment in Greece is already at a record high of 16 percent.
However, Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou, who is under extreme pressure to impose harsh austerity measures by powerful European officials, especially in Germany and France, has vowed to meet its commitments under the bailout plan.
According to the Hürriyet Daily News, a Turkish newspaper, Athens also seeks to create a new class of workers called substitute employees in addition to the permanent job cuts.
Dimitris Reppas, minister of administrative reforms, told reporters that Greece is on the verge of changing its very structure politically and economically and decentralizing the state.
Papandreou earlier told German businessmen in Berlin that Greece is making a “superhuman effort” to cut its debt.
“I promise you we Greeks will soon fight our way back to growth and prosperity after this period of pain,” he said.
Meanwhile, anger is mounting on the streets of Athens and other Greek cities, with a flurry of strikes being called by unions representing public workers.