Greece: 'Time to teach civil servants a lesson'

Article published on July 9, 2010
Article published on July 9, 2010
No public transport for 24 hours in Athens and flight cancellations at Greek airports

Strike or απεργία ... 8 July was just another day for Greek citizens to demonstrate their desperation about the government's spending cuts, which are aimed at overcoming the crisis in which the country currently finds itself. For the second time in a fortnight a twenty-four hour strike resulted in all public transport being cancelled. It was scheduled to coincide with a parliamentary session during which members were voting on whether to approve a labour law which establishes a minimum wage of 500 euros (£435) for entry level jobs. Also, most flights scheduled for the day were cancelled at Athens' Venizelos airport due to an air traffic controller strike.

Government measure reaction

For the second time in a row, VAT (ΦΠΑ) rose by two percentage points on 1 July, moving from 21% to 23% on products like alcohol, tobacco, petrol and other general secondary necessities. In the space of four months, citizens of the Hellenic republic have seen a VAT increase of four percentage points on their purchases. Furthermore, the salaries of public sector workers have been cut by between 9 and 15% through all sectors. All public tenders have been suspended, apart from health and education, which have been reduced by 6%. Pensions have been frozen. Rumour has it that, as of September, the public sector will be further directly affected by another series of adjustments.

Dimitria Yianikopulu, manager of Ifos Fashion in the city of Corinth, has accepted matters with a sense of resignation explaining that this year, in comparison to the last tax year, sales have reduced by 20%; she doesn't doubt that this is down to the VAT increase and salaries in the public sector being reduced, in some instances, by 30%. That is the case for Panagiotis, an army pilot specialising in extinguishing forest fires, who doesn’t want to give his last name. He is very worried, as the budget for extinguishing forest fires has been reduced from five to two million euros for this summer; this is 'very dangerous' for a country which tends to suffer from such fires between May and October.

In response to the discontent that some of the government's measures have caused, Nicoletta, who works in a travel agency in Corinth, states that despite a 20% reduction in the number of bookings in one year, she totally agrees with the government's 'cleansing' of the public sector. Last year, Nicoletta worked for the Greek national tourism organisation (ΕΟΤ) and 'confesses' that the 1, 200 euros (£1, 043) she earned a month was 'too high'. She agrees with the recent reduction of this wage to 900 euros (£783). 'Civil servants don't do anything. It's time to teach them a lesson. That's why I work in the private sector now,' she adds.

Trade union dilemma

One of the country's biggest trade unions, PAME (ΠΑΜΕ), has been holding rallies nearly once a week in recent months. On 6 July in Syntagma Square in central Athens, the union made the most of the availability of famous actors and musicians, like Majezitsas Lavzentis, making its presence felt by defending the rights of the Greek people, despite the bad press it is receiving. Union member Giorgos Korkulis states that they must 'do something' in such an unsustainable situation. 'I don't think that rallying in Piraeus (the port of Athens) or sometimes shutting down a street is as bad as economically crippling the country. What will we do if we lose purchasing power?' The judiciary has declared the various strikes taking place across Greece as 'illegal', which has divided public opinion between those for and those against them.

Another Panagiotis, an Athenian taxi driver who often does the airport run, is totally against these 'empty and stupid days'. He believes that they only serve to annoy tourists who contribute 20% to the country's GDP, even in peak seasons. In any case, airlines, ferry companies and the government itself promise full refunds on ticket prices, or the offer of a new travel date as the traveller prefers.

Image: main (cc) ΠΡΙΝ/ Flickr; airport and demonstration ©Clara Fajardo