New ethos in public servants’ wages

The moribund public administration of Greece acts like an internal threat to the country’s progress in the modern world, and the government has been forced to tackle the root cause of the problem. The economic and hierarchical leveling of public servants means that some people who are at the very heart of the state earn less money than others who clean offices or simply carry files about. This arrangement is responsible for the wide-ranging corruption in, and ineffectiveness of, public services today. In stark contrast to the policies of the past 20 years, the government is now instituting a new salary scale which will directly link public servants’ earnings to their knowledge, efficiency and official responsibilities. When the new scale is introduced, it may be the beginning of the end for what is the greatest scourge of modern Greece – a disintegrating state system which smothers any attempts to develop the economy, any social progress or improvement in the quality of life. Positive side of private sector In essence, this is an attempt to put to use in the public sector some of the features and flexibility of the private sector and to create a system that can recognize, encourage and genuinely reward quality performance. This would definitively set public administration free from the current Soviet-style salary scale, in which rewarding diligence is practically a sin. That, and the virtual abolition of hierarchy, the absence of any monitoring, and party-political interference have all reduced the public service to its present, lamentable state. Greece may be firmly entrenched in the West, but its administration has remained Balkan, if not eastern. It is inappropriate for a country that is fully integrated into the European Union to continue living with the administrative chaos created by party politics, the abolition of the position of general manager, a notion of hierarchy that dates back to 1981, and the Soviet-style law of 1984 that fatally uncoupled salaries and positions. What applies now In the current system, public servants’ wages rise automatically according to their classification and regardless of their performance, conscientiousness or productivity. The natural consequence of this is something Greeks have to put up with every day: the opposite of meritocracy, desperately inadequate services, and a bureaucracy that couldn’t care less about the public and doesn’t make the slightest effort to conceal it. Nobody monitors anybody, and nobody wants or is able to impose rules. There are six salary scales based on educational levels (primary, secondary, technical, undergraduate degree, master’s degree and doctorate), and the differences between them is so small as to be laughable. Salary increases are so slow and so tiny as to be almost non-existent. Ongoing education Worse still, there is no recognition of the fact that public servants need ongoing education during their years of employment. They are offered no incentive to acquire further education at a time when the speed of technological progress makes this essential. A typical example of the wretched state of public administration is that public servants who have completed primary education or a few years of secondary education and who are in the lowest category of the service receive the same wage increases as employees with graduate degrees. After 35 years of employment, the former receive a salary that is 65 percent higher than their first salary, compared with 58 percent for the latter. In direct contrast to this regime, the proposal for new salary scales represents an attempt to implement a principle adopted by the European Union summit in Lisbon: «The European Union has set itself a strategic objective for the coming decade: to become the most competitive and dynamic economy in the world, which is based on knowledge and is capable of sustainable development, with the most and best jobs and greater social cohesion.» So the new salary scales proposal is based on linking wages with knowledge. In its latest report on Greece, the OECD referred emphatically to the crucial role of public administration in bringing about structural change and development in the Greek economy. The new proposed model will differentiate salaries according to knowledge and link increments to performance, putting an end to the present automatic increases. The aim is to have trained staff receive higher wages and faster increases than untrained staff, because the former are more productive. The Austrian model In planning the new scales, the National Economy Ministry will base them on the Austrian model, whereby the first salary of a university-educated employee is 40 percent higher than that of an employee who has only completed primary school. The gap between their final salaries will be even more striking, with the former receiving 125 percent more than their first salary and the latter only 44 percent more. But the salary is only one pillar of the planned change. The other is the attempt to re-establish the administrative hierarchy and to reintroduce the notion of responsibility. Deputy National Economy Minister Giorgos Floridis, whose team has been working on the proposal, has already introduced a pilot application of the new system to the Education Ministry. He increased the bonus for secondary school directors from 40,000 to 120,000 drachmas, even though the directors’ union had only asked for a 100,000-drachma increase, and that with negotiations in mind. Funding new salaries The measure has already become law and will be implemented in June, when the new managers to be chosen have taken over. According to the Bank of Greece, there will be a 20-billion-drachma (58.7-million-euro) saving when the handwritten payrolls used to calculate teachers’ salary scales are superseded by the intra-bank DIAS system, and this money will go to enhancing the salaries of skilled, trained employees in positions of responsibility. Next week, Economy Ministry officials will work out alternative scenarios for funding the new salaries. The greatest problem they face appears to be the 60,000-drachma (176-euro) bonuses awarded in summer to employees with primary-level education and which were not part of the budget. The rationale behind these bonuses runs counter to that introduced by the new salary scales. The time frame needed for these changes is also being studied. And another vital issue is the reaction of the public servants’ union, ADEDY, to the proposal.