International

Greece pushes for more staff in health, education sectors

Lawyers shout slogans during a rally organized by Greek Bar Associations in Athens, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

ATHENS: Greece said Thursday it wanted to persuade its creditors to let it hire more health staff and teachers in the early stages of its overhaul of the public sector, part of a wider attempt to cushion the blow of harsh austerity. Athens has promised to cut public sector spending and increase efficiency under the terms of its international bailout, and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said he was committed to the plan.

But the government, which has a thin parliamentary majority, has also promised to help the most vulnerable by improving health and education – services that have been particularly hard hit during the country’s debt crisis.

“Our aim is to convince [the lenders], and our arguments are very strong and serious, to bring forward some hirings initially scheduled for the next five years,” Tsipras said during a speech at the National Center of Public Administration.

The country’s European Union and International Monetary Fund creditors are due to begin their first review of the new bailout next week, which if concluded successfully, will pave the way for talks on much-needed debt relief.

The IMF helps oversee the latest bailout program, Greece’s third since 2010, but as yet does not contribute funds to the package.

However, the chairman of eurozone finance ministers said Thursday that Greece now accepts that the IMF has to come on board, which could put even more demands on Athens.

Tsipras, who controls 153 lawmakers in the 300-seat Greek parliament, is already facing new pressure from a range of opponents. Reformist Kyriakos Mitsotakis was elected to lead the conservatives, the ruling coalition’s main political rival, in the run up to a parliamentary vote on a tough and unpopular pension reform also demanded by the lenders.

Thousands of self-employed lawyers and doctors marched to parliament against the planned pension reforms, which include cuts and social security contribution increases, as the country’s largest trade unions were preparing for a nationwide strike in February.

Athens must cut its 2016 pension bill by 1.8 billion euros ($1.95 billion). Tsipras said he hoped for wider political support for the state reform bill, which will be submitted to parliament in the coming days and was discussed in a three-hour cabinet meeting Wednesday.

The bill, which Tsipras called a “tool” for fighting corruption, will introduce a new evaluation system of public sector workers’ performance.

“We are not going to operate like the others, we will not be appointing managers without meritocracy,” Tsipras said.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 15, 2016, on page 6.

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