NEWS

Fewer guards are employed every year

At most archaeological sites, work is in progress – window dressing to highlight and renovate, or simple cleaning and tidying around the edges, since there is not enough money or people to do more. An hour away from Athens is Sounion, an important site and one of the most visited. For years, the ephorate responsible for the site has been been asking for an electricity supply and work to support sections on the point of collapse. The good news is that the Public Power Corporation (PPC) announced last week that it would sponsor the installation of electricity at the site. There are other shortcomings – one being the lack of sanitary facilities. The same goes for Gortyn, the fourth most popular site in Crete after Knossos, the Iraklion Museum and Phaestos, which does not have toilets either. Foreigners ask where the toilets are, and the staff are embarrassed to tell them that there aren’t any. A German who asked, «How do you manage?» couldn’t believe the look of the employee who just indicated the fields. At sites such as Mystras, which are considered exemplary in this respect, the facilities may be far away or inaccessible to people of restricted mobility. Multiple duties In this year of the Olympic Games, there are around 1,700 permanent guards to protect the archaeological sites that can be visited. Guards are also responsible for guarding stores, collections, and areas where they also oversee work of various kinds, including building work. Ten years ago, the number of permanent staff came to 2,500 and it was 2,200 four years ago. Pompeii, by contrast, has 423 guards. Supposedly, each archaeological site has one night guard, but some do not even have anyone employed on a casual basis. In 1994, the Acropolis had 110 permanent staff. Now there are less than 70, including day and night workers. But there are many who work on a casual basis. There used to be 150 guards at the National Archaeological Museum, but when it opens at the end of the month there won’t be more than 80. The huge site of Mycenae, with its exceptional museum, is protected by 20 people, nine of whom are permanent. In a few days, casual staff will be added to that number, but for the moment requirements are met by staff from Argos, Tiryns and the Nafplion Museum. The situation is similar in Vergina, where there is a staff of five. At Delphi, the 55-strong staff has been cut back to 25, and at Olympia, from 70 to just 20. Investigation reveals that 200 guards are employed in accounts departments, administration, and ephorates, either because those services are short of staff or because the guards’ connections have appointed them to positions they prefer. Staff shortages In 2001, an article in a law regulating matters concerning the Culture Ministry (YPPO) made provision for the appointment of 3,500 staff, including those of guards for archaeological sites. «Evangelos Venizelos [then culture minister] promised us 550 jobs for guards and 250 workers,» says the head of the union of archaeological site guards, Yiannis Dimakakos. «The announcement was made but, unfortunately, the matter went no further. Now 1,100 basic positions still have to be filled as foreseen by the new YPPO administration, but there have been no appointments since 1990. Venizelos signed an order for funds of 10 million euros, but it was not transferred to the regular budget.» The Culture Ministry is thinking of solving the problem of guards by employing casual labor. In a week’s time, Deputy Culture Minister Petros Tatoulis will meet with workers’ representatives to ratify an agreement with their unions, which have been asked to submit their demands and proposals. So the summer problem will be solved by many casual workers and few permanent staff, as no other arrangements had been made earlier. For security reasons, nobody can say exactly how many will be working in August and in which positions. At Sounion, for instance, five people work until sunset, so it is difficult for them to take time off. And guards’ duties are not only connected with security, but include working at the shop and ticket booth, issuing tickets and whatever else is required. The Acropolis, Knossos, Delphi, Mycenae, Epidaurus, Corinth, Lindos and Vergina are the most visited sites. At the large archaeological sites, the staffing problem will be dealt with by employing casual labor. Security «In view of the Olympic Games, the Culture Ministry has, apart from other measures, boosted the number of guards in order to avert problems,» was the reply of Lazaros Kolonas, general manager of antiquities at the ministry. «In addition to other measures which, as you can understand, we are not at liberty to reveal, the staff have received training from special security police. We are fully prepared, but there is always the human factor as well as other eventualities we cannot ignore.» At present, however, the Culture Ministry has no money. «We have submitted a request for funding to the Economy Ministry.» Kolonas told Kathimerini. «We’re are on the right track. We hope approval will be given by the first week in July.» Other sources in the sector agree with Kolonas, saying that the major archaeological sites will be made into «fortresses.» Nothing was said about the regional sites. Keeping the sites open until 8 p.m. is under discussion, but there will be no major extension to work hours. Initially, sites were to stay open till 8.30 p.m. and museums till 10 p.m. New team A special decision-making team has been formed to deal with emergencies. If an archaeological site needs to stay open longer than arranged in order to cater to high demand, then the team can give its approval and use staff who will be sent there from other posts or who have agreed to work extra hours. Where work has been done, all is well, but most of the plans for highlighting archaeological sites, refurbishment and putting exhibits back on display (as at the Brauron Museum, for instance) will be postponed until after 2005. Even the 1998 announcement about highlighting 70 sites has been forgotten, as have subsequent promises. In most cases, a sign has been erected, while at others not even the weeding has been done. Rhamnous isn’t fully open to the public, while the famous plan to connect the archaeological sites of Marathon has been left to the last minute. The Culture Ministry has missed an opportunity. Instead of doing an exemplary job of highlighting a limited number of sites, it embarked upon too many projects and got tangled up in unforeseen events.