Greece is hoping that the quicker-than-expected departure of civil servants from the public sector will help convince visiting troika officials that there is no need for the coalition to sack public sector workers in the coming months.
Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras and Administrative Reform Minister Antonis Manitakis met Tuesday to discuss the government’s position on the downsizing of the public sector.
Leading officials from the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund are due to hold talks with the two ministers on Sunday and Monday to discuss civil servant numbers.
The coalition is worried about having to sack public sector workers as it fears the backlash from unions and society given that unemployment is at 27 percent. There is also concern that such a move could destabilize the coalition. Fotis Kouvelis, the leader of junior coalition partner Democratic Left, is strongly opposed to firing bureaucrats.
However, Athens is concerned that the troika, particularly the IMF, will pressure Greece to commit to specific steps to reducing the number of bureaucrats ahead of a decision next month by the Euro Working Group to reduce the final sub-tranche of 2.8 billion euros from the latest bailout installments.
In a TV interview on Monday night, Stournaras admitted that the firing of civil servants could not be ruled out. SYRIZA accused the government of backtracking on its pledge not to.
The Greek government is going to defend its position not to proceed with direct sackings in the public sector by arguing that civil servant numbers are falling faster than expected thanks to early retirements and the non-renewal of contracts. Sources said that as many as 37,000 workers left the civil service last year when the target was to reduce the amount of bureaucrats by about 20,000.
Responding to a question in Parliament, Manitakis said that between February 29 and October 1 last year, 17,756 employees exited the public sector and less than 4,000 were hired. He said that the total number of Greeks employed in the civil service stood at 667,733 as of October. Greece has agreed with the troika that by the end of 2014 it will employ 150,000 fewer civil servants than in 2010.
The government also believes that a mobility scheme for 25,000 civil servants and the redrawing of organizational structures at ministries will also help bring public sector worker numbers down.