Gov’t, troika edge toward deal on civil servants

Government officials continued tough talks with the troika on a contentious overhaul of the civil service on Thursday, indicating that gradual progress would likely yield a deal by Tuesday, as Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras arrived in Dublin, where he is to face his eurozone counterparts on Friday at an informal summit.

In Stournaras’s absence, Alternate Finance Minister Christos Staikouras led the Greek side in ongoing negotiations with troika envoys that were also attended by Administrative Reform Minister Antonis Manitakis whose ministry has been tasked with overseeing the streamlining of the civil service. Troika officials also met with Development Ministry employees to discuss a Greek proposal to lighten the burden on excessively indebted households and businesses. Other issues – including the possible reduction of an unpopular property tax and allowing debts to the state to be paid back in more than 40 installments – appeared to have been resolved, according to sources.

The government is expected to present as a victory for the Greek side the fact that Athens managed to plug a 4-billion-euro “financing gap” for 2013 and 2014 without imposing additional austerity measures, beyond the so-called “prior actions” already pledged to foreign creditors in exchange for continued rescue loans.

The key prior action that Greece has yet to make good on is the downsizing of the civil service. The troika reportedly wants the government to start by laying off 2,000 employees accused of disciplinary offenses. Manitakis has insisted that dismissals cannot be carried out until the cases have been resolved and is reportedly seeking ways to accelerate the process of disciplinary hearings. In any case, Manitakis reportedly objects to committing to a specific number of layoffs by a certain deadline.

Sources close to the minister said on Thursday that the troika’s call for 20,000 layoffs by the end of next year is over and above what Greece committed to in the second loan agreement it signed last year. If foreign envoys insist on this stance, Manitakis is likely to withdraw from the talks and allow other government officials to continue talks.

Sources told Kathimerini that the troika might give Athens some extra time – possibly until summer – to show progress in speeding up the process by which oath-breaking civil servants are found guilty or exonerated so that dismissals can begin.

A spate of surprise inspections by state officials on ministries and state organizations suggests that a significant proportion of civil servants are consistently failing to turn up to work. Inspections over the past week on offices of five ministries – Finance, Administrative Reform, Education, Health and Tourism – revealed that a large number of employees were absent without good reason. In the case of the Education Ministry, 20 percent of the employees were unjustifiably absent, Kathimerini understands. According to sources, civil servant absence rates soared during last November’s extended strike action by public transport workers. Employees have reacted angrily to the crackdown, with many accusing authorities of using “intimidation tactics.”