Greece’s parliament passed a law on Thursday paving the way for the government to rehire about 4,000 public sector workers who were laid off or earmarked for dismissal under austerity cuts imposed by international creditors.
The move made good on a campaign promise by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who rode a wave of public anger against austerity measures to win January elections, and does not explicitly violate the terms of the EU/IMF bailout which allows Greece to hire one public employee for every five who leave.
But the plan to rehire school guards, cleaning ladies and civil servants appeared to go against the spirit of the layoff scheme in the bailout, which says the firings were aimed at rejuvenating the public administration by bringing in new, motivated workers and ending the legacy of patronage hiring.
“This is an unorganised, irresponsible settlement of your party’s pre-election pledges,» opposition lawmaker Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the former administrative reforms minister who sacked many of those being rehired, told parliament.
The previous government had intended for hirings this year to be focused mainly on the health and education sectors.
Tsipras received a jubilant group of about 50 cleaning ladies — who protested against their dismissal outside the finance ministry for months — at his office on Thursday.
“Even the Chancellor, in a meeting that we had and without me bringing it up, referred to how unfair what the previous government did to you was,” Tsipras told the group, in an apparent reference to German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
“Your fight was known abroad because it was a fair fight.”
An official at the administrative reforms ministry said the reinstatement of the workers would have an annual cost of 33.5 million euros ($37.8 million) that was already included in the country’s 2015 budget plan approved with last year.
The 3,928 workers to be rehired include 2,100 who were fired outright and another 1,900 in a so-called labour reserve where workers received partial salaries while they waited to see if they would be moved into new jobs.
The state was already paying salaries for about 1,000 school guards in the reserve, limiting costs involved in their hiring, the ministry official said.
Greece has pledged not to make unilateral actions reversing bailout reforms it opposes while talks with its international lenders continue. There was no immediate reaction for the lenders on the law passed by Athens.