The Newest Greek Odyssey: Living in Strikeland

The Newest Greek Odyssey: Living in Strikeland

State schools closed, hospitals running only on emergency staff, trash piling up, trains halted, metro and cabbies on strike, tax offices closed, customs officers walking out of their jobs, airlines grounded. Even, ERT -Greece’s state broadcaster is on strike (not that anyone took notice).

This is the newest Odyssey for dizzy, tax-hit Greek citizens who struggle to cope both psychologically and physically with their country’s latest tragedy. But not all public sector strikes are the same and not all civil servants are lazy and well paied.

Surely, some of the public sector unions that are currently on strike and passionately resend the two ruling parties, have in fact benefited from Greece’s corrupt political system, which lies at the heart of its fiscal problems but others have every right to be outraged by their “socialist” rulers’ barbaric measures.

Trash Athens

It’s almost impossible to walk around Athens these days without having to hold your nose. Far from resembling a European capital Athens is basically a city dump as municipal employees have been on strike -but paradoxically are still getting paid!  More than 6 tons of trash have accumulated in Athens, according to the Municipality data while doctors unions warn that the trash mound is a time bomb for public health. It’s scary to imagine what’s gonna happen in the next few days as the unions are planning to continue their strike until the general strike on the 19th of October.

Municipalities are considered the most wasteful state entities with debts running to billions of euros. From economists and engineers to administrators and even general workers, municipalities golden boys receive between € 50-90 thousand annual salaries-double than teachers , doctors and police officers. And it’s getting better: while almost every year the state hires cleaning stuff, the minute the workers secure their place in the “Greek dream”, a.k.a the Greek public sector, they transfer to an overcrowded administration office basically doing what they do best: drink frappe and chil out.

 Hospitals in Intensive Care

Should you visit an emergency room of any major hospital in Athens, you will think you are in a conflict zone. Patients suffering lie on camp beds, endless queues of people in pain and doctors running around in panic trying to work with minimum medical supplies. These are not the big-name doctors who have made fortunes receiving under-the-table “fakelakia” or bonuses/bribes from big pharmaceutical companies to prescribe their medicines. These are the 1000 euros a month doctors who work 48-hour shifts straight in order to face the overwhelming human cost the crisis has left behind.

And the situation is bound to get worse as the economic meltdown has left fewer people able to pay for private care. Private hospital admissions have fallen by as much as 30 percent, and patients are instead flooding into public health-care institutions while more and more Greeks are resorting to visiting street clinics run by humanitarian groups, such as Doctors without Borders, which used to almost exclusively serve low-income immigrants. Hospital doctors are on strike almost every week and they have every right to be: their already ridiculously low wages are being slashed even more and they have to perform medical acts while lacking critical supplies from stents and interocular lenses for cataract operations to paper towels.

Hungry Teachers

A couple of days ago Athens Teachers’ Union issued a shocking statement about primary school pupils who faint due to starvation in downtown Athens state schools. But with the teachers’ monthly salary down to 800 euros, it won’t be long before teachers themselves faint out of hunger in schools. Nobody knows better than the Greek schoolteachers that they have been losing position on the economic ladder (as compared with other jobholders in the public sector) so them striking comes as no surprise.

At the same time it should be noted that  the Greek school system is notoriously bloated. One small school on a tiny island was found to have 15 PE teachers, while another had more teachers than students! However, instead of startving teachers to death, it would be wiser to streamline the education system and relocated all those “hidden” teachers who basically took advantage of the the traditional client-patron system that both Papandreou and Samara’s parties tolerated , nurtured and exploited .

Cabless-bussless-metroless Athens

Buses, metro trains, trams and taxis were not running yesterday in the Greek capital. Athenians were hardly surprised as public transport workers walking off their jobs has become something of a routine. And if you are wondering how they can actually afford striking every week, the answer lies to the absurdly high salaries ISAP, ETHEL and ATTICO METRO employees receive. According to capital.gr ISAP drivers make around 3,700 euros a month in the same country where overqualified executives with a couple of Masters in hand struggle to get a 700 euro job!

And the situtation in Athens underground is not much better. According to the newspaper TA NEA, Attico Metro expenses for salaries are about the 74% of its annual turnover! The reason behind this paradox is for once more the country’s corrupted political system. From 2001 to 2009 Attico metro expenses for salaries only, increased 700% as both New Democracy and PASOK wouldn’t stop hiring their clients/voters.

Public sector penthouses turning to basements

Tax and customs officials’ powerful unions – commonly acknowledged by the Greek media as “public sector penthouses”- are on strike. And why wouldn’t they be?  The new unified payment scheme will streamline pay grades and cut their skyrocketing salaries  while slashing  their absurd allowances bringing them to the same level with teachers and doctors’ peanut salaries. These are the same people who a couple of  months,amid the country’s financial Titanic declared that “We do everything else but collecting taxes”- a pretty ironic statement since  the vast majority of tax offices have failed to meet collection targets despite the fact that Tax officers’ wages doubled over the last two decades and enjoy numerous perks, benefits, and bonuses.

The ERT joke

Here’s a public organisation that’s been on strike on and off for months yet not a single soul noticed! It’s  no other than ERT, Greece’s state broadcaster that employees 3,800  permanent civil servants plus 1,200 as contract workers -even more than the BBC UK! Sadly however, its viewing rates can only be compared to a local channel of small Greek island somewhere in the Aegean. Needless to mention how the state broadcaster of a country with a population of around 11,000,000 ended up employing 4,200 workers.