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Riddled with debt, Greek government initiates mass layoff of angry civil servants

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
April 29th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The Greek government has started doing what was unthinkable, at least until recently, which is to fire public sector workers. The layoffs come as part of a wider austerity plan and are naturally very unpopular in the financially troubled state.

ATHENS, GREECE (Catholic Online) - The first of some 180,000 layoffs have started for the public sector workforce, sparking protests and challenges. The layoffs are part of a broader austerity plan for the Greek state and a condition to receive more bailout money for the troubled economy.

Public sector jobs have employed almost a third of all Greeks. According to national statistics, about 29 percent of Greeks found employment in the lucrative sector. Until now, it has been an easy job.

Greek law has specifically protected public sector workers since the 1880s, when a law was passed that provided permanent protection for civil servants. The law was necessary then, as each new government would come into power and immediately fire the previous set of servants and hire an all-new batch. This created major problems with each transition.

However, once the law protected civil service jobs, the political hires did not end. New governments simply kept the previous civil servants as they were required, and hired their own people to work alongside them. This lead to an ever-expanding bureaucracy and a growing burden on the state. All the while, it made the government less efficient.

Now, the civil sector in Greece is massive and self-entitled. That makes the latest plans which involve 180,000 permanent layoffs, extremely unpopular.

Many civil servants have been protesting the pending layoffs for some time, sometimes demonstrating in traditional garb and carrying flags.

For now, the initial layoffs will come from people with disciplinary issues. The first two layoffs are almost symbolic, with the government laying off one person for stealing and another for taking 110 days of unexcused absence.

The law also speeds up the appeals process and allows for employees to be suspended if they are accused of a serious offense.

Prime Minister Anotnis Samaras is referring to the law as an "upgrade."

In essence, the law truly is an upgrade. It is an opportunity for the government to cut some of the waste out of the system and to reorganize at least a part of the bureaucracy. Meanwhile, as layoffs and natural attrition eliminate some jobs,  old positions will be phased out and new ones created as needed. There will still be plenty of jobs for hire in the future.

However, nations cannot fire their way to prosperity any more than they can tax their way there. Dismissing people in times of high unemployment means fewer taxpayers and more people on public assistance programs than before. There is a cost to layoffs for the government.

However, bailout money comes with strings attached, and this is one of those strings. Hopefully the Greek government will take advantage of the opportunity to make badly needed reforms which will help much more than hinder.

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