Civil servants take protest to Acropolis

Greek civil servants protesting mass staff cuts took their campaign to the gates of the ancient Acropolis on Friday, after the government announced that 500 workers at the culture ministry would be suspended next month.

State archaeologists gathered in front of the ancient site, but did not block the entrance. Several museums around the country, including the popular Archaeological Museum on the island of Santorini, were closed in protest.

Elsewhere, civil servants continued a second day of work stoppages and held a protest rally in central Athens.

The government has promised its international rescue lenders it will suspend 25,000 public sector workers by the end of the year, with about a third of them likely to be fired.

Despina Koutsoumba, head of the Association of Greek Archaeologists at the ministry, said employees were preparing to step up protests, and were to hold a meeting Monday to decide on strikes.

“As things stand, we don’t have enough people to function properly. We have to cover 19,000 archaeological sites and 210 museums nationwide, as well as several hundred archaeological excavations in progress all over the country,” Koutsoumba told the AP, as colleagues held up a Styrofoam cut of a temple, with “for sale” signs stuck on it.

“We have 6,600 staff at the Ministry of Culture and Sport, and they will dismiss 500. But they will just have to hire that number back again – of course on part-time contracts and for less money.”

Civil servants have seen their salaries repeatedly cut since the start of the crisis in late 2009, but had been largely spared dismissals, while unemployment ravaged the private sector as debts and austerity measures squeezed credit and led to multiple tax hikes.

But Greece is now under growing pressure from its bailout lenders – the other eurozone countries and the International Monetary Fund – to fire workers on the state payroll.

Parliament late Thursday approved legislation to speed up the closure of state-run companies and departments, and the government on Friday published a list of criteria that will be used to assess staff placed in the eight-month suspension scheme.

Whether an employee is fired or submitted to involuntary transfer within the public sector will depend on criteria such as work experience, language skills, level of higher education, and family disabilities, among others.

Some think the plan may lead to more cuts than currently estimated. Critics note that the government has during the crisis repeatedly changed its austerity plans to meet new targets.

“We don’t believe they really have a plan,” Koutsoumba said. “This is a head count. And now we have got to the point where they are chopping off those heads.” [AP]