Public hirings reined in but pace of reforms is slow

About 6,500 places in the public sector have been identified by the government as those that will be filled this year as part of Greece?s commitment to keep its civil service hirings down to the bare minimum.

However, efforts to meet other targets, such as the transfer of personnel to different departments, are lagging far behind the targets set by the country?s lenders.

Sources said that the Interior and Finance ministries have agreed that despite requests from other government departments for 16,000 new hires, a maximum of only 6,527 people would be taken on and that they would cover key positions in the state sector, such as doctors, nurses, teachers, policemen and tax officials.

Last year, more than 53,000 civil servants retired, which means that under the five-out-one-in rule the government has agreed with the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, it would be able to hire about 10,000 people this year. However, some 4,000 places would be taken up by transfers within departments.

About 2,700 employees will leave the debt-ridden Hellenic Railways Organization (OSE). Another 1,400 will be moved out of the Athens Urban Transport Organization (OASA).

Despite a law being passed in December allowing these transfers to take place, the process of moving personnel has not started, much to the concern of the EU and the IMF. The government has also failed to agree on new collective contracts with the OSE staff. The two measures combined are expected to bring the wage bill at the company down by about 50 percent.

This is likely to be one of the topics when Prime Minister George Papandreou meets with opposition party leaders next week. It was announced that the talks would take place on Tuesday, as a precursor to a eurozone leaders? meeting on Friday and the EU leaders? summit on March 24 and 25.

Papandreou will meet with the leaders of each of the four parliamentary opposition parties separately. The premier is keen to create some kind of consensus before heads for the meetings.

An effort by Finance Minister Giorgos Papaconstantinou to find common ground with the opposition parties met with little success as New Democracy rejected his offer for talks, saying that it was a ?publicity stunt.? Papaconstantinou met with representatives of Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS), Democratic Left and Democratic Alliance earlier this week.

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