Supreme Court gives contract workers boost

The Supreme Court caused a new headache for the government on Thursday when its judges ruled that any short-term contract workers first employed in the public sector before 2001 should be given permanent jobs.

Although the ruling is estimated to only affect a few hundred people, it is seen as paving the way for some 30,000 individuals employed on fixed-term contracts after 2001 to also stake a legal claim to permanent positions in the public sector. This comes as a blow to the government at a time when it is desperate to slash spending by reducing the number of people employed in the public sector, among other means.

In a majority decision of 26 votes to 19, the Supreme Court judges ruled that anyone employed in the wider public sector, including at municipalities, before the constitution was changed in May 2001 and who work in positions deemed necessary for the functioning of the public sector should be given open-ended deals.

In effect, the decision only affects the employment status of several hundred people as the previous New Democracy government passed a law in 2004 that led to most contract workers being switched to long-term deals.

However, the ruling is regarded as a green light to the newer crop of contract workers, thought to number some 30,000, to also take their demands for permanent employment to the Supreme Court and the government is likely fearful that the judges will again rule the state and local authorities have a duty to provide them with permanent jobs.

Thursday?s ruling also attempts to reaffirm the right of the courts over the government and municipalities to decide whether contract workers should be given new deals. Legal experts said that this is in line with European legislation and appears to override the constitutional amendment which stipulated that contract workers could not have their deals renewed or be given permanent status. The law had been designed to prevent political parties from handing out public sector jobs as favors through the back door.

Contract workers at the City of Athens, who have been staging a sit-in protest at City Hall since last month, said that they would end their action following the Supreme Court?s ruling.

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