ATHENS – It doesn’t include untold thousands in state-run enterprises, but the second census of Greek workers in two years has found there are officially 705,976 people on the public payroll, down from 768,009 in 2010, even as Greece readies plans to let go 150,000 state employees over the next three years to meet demands from international lenders putting up $325 billion in two bailouts.
The review was released by Administrative Reform Minister Dimitris Reppas, showing that there were 636,188 civil servants in permanent employment, 49,546 on back-up duty and another 20,242 working in other capacities in a country of 11 million population. The number could be closer to 1 million, other analysts have said, counting workers in agencies such as the railroads, energy and other public sectors that weren’t accounted for.
The Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) providing the bailouts has been pushing Greece for two years to cut its highly bloated public payroll as part of other severe austerity measures, including pay cuts, tax hikes and slashed pensions. Greece is struggling with $460 billion of debt caused by generations of the two major political parties, the PASOK Socialists and New Democracy Conservatives, packing public payrolls with hundreds of thousands of unneeded workers in return for votes.
The Troika wants 15,000 workers fired this year or put into a so-called labor reserve scheme, a year-long limbo in which they would get 60 percent pay – salaries for most workers have already been cut by 30 percent. After that, those in reserve could be dismissed and public unions have blasted the idea as a disguise to eventually fire them. Reppas said the target of getting rid of 150,000 redundant workers was “feasible,” and proceeding “at a satisfactory pace,” although critics have said none have been let go yet and that the government is still hiring people. Critics have long lambasted the Greek public sector as riddled with incompetence and an image of civil servants sitting around smoking and drinking coffee and ignoring customers while piles of files filled floors and corners.
The current total still represents about 17.6 percent of the working population of 4 million people, far higher than Germany’s ratio of about 11 percent, but still lower than France and England, at about 21 percent. But it would be far higher if the state-run enterprise workers were included. Greek workers were reluctant to be counted as they didn’t want to be identified for placement in the labor reserve scheme and before the last two counts there was no official tally of how many people were working for the government, one of the most coveted goals of Greeks almost from birth.
In the past, the government hired many more workers than needed as part of the deeply-ingrained patronage system in Greece. In 2010, Leandros Rakintzis, a General Inspector for public administration, told the German news operation Deutsche Well that corruption and deception had sunk the system. “Shortly before the 2009 elections, just to name one example, the Athens public transit authority posted 72 immediate openings for tram operators,” he said. “In the end, 150 people got a position. That was clearly an election gift.” That election was won by then PASOK leader George Papandreou, who said during the campaign that, “The money is there,” but who soon discovered that New Democracy had left him a country that was broke. After imposing austerity on Greece, his reign as Prime Minister ended ignominiously on Nov. 11, 2011 after incessant protests, riots and strikes.