Greece’s public broadcasting system ERT, funded with mandatory withdrawals from electric bill payments, will close and then reopen with a far smaller number of workers, the government said.
Government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou said that ERT, criticized for being overstaffed, was a a source of “waste and lack of transparency,” and the employees union POSPERT said that 2,600 of the 2,800 workers would be axed.
Kedikoglou was speaking shortly after it emerged that the government had passed a legislative decree that allowed ministers to shut down public enterprises.
“The Greek people are paying for ERT, which has three times, even eight times, as much staff as it needs,” he said. “It has ample assets, which have remained unused.” He said that ERT suffered as a result of “management that lacked transparency, benefits for its workers and spending huge amounts on external productions.”
Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, the New Democracy Conservative leader, decided to pull the plug on ERT which may go off the air until being restructured. His party, along with the PASOK Socialists, had been accused of hiring hundreds of thousands of needless workers over the last 40 years in return for votes and dumping them in various offices, including ERT.
Kedikoglou said that a “modern broadcasting service” would replace ERT. The new broadcaster would have fewer staff, he added without giving details. He said that new staff would be hired in some areas. He said that as long as ERT is off air, Greek households would not pay the broadcaster’s license fee through their electricity bills.
Greece has to fire 2,000 civil servants by the end of the year and 15,000 by the end of 2014 on the orders of international lenders putting up a second bailout of $173 billion to keep the economy from collapsing.
If there are not enough early retirements, ERT will be pared with firings. It is not clear how this will affect ERT’s various services, including TV and radio stations. It is also not clear how quickly the process could be carried out.
A legislative decree was published in the Government Gazette that allows for public enterprises to be restructured in this way. The Democratic Left (DIMAR,) which along with the PASOK Socialists is a partner in the coalition government led by the New Democracy Conservative leader Samaras, said it would be “inconceivable” for Greece to lose its national broadcaster, but has previously relented to demands from the Premier after voicing some objections.
ERT workers are expected to protest against the dismissals and reforms, as have other sectors, such as seamen and Metro workers, but none of those have done anything to deter the government from sticking with a strict austerity plan.