Sackings on, and off, agenda

Despite being given the thumbs-up yesterday by the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund inspectors with regards to its economic policy, the government seemed to be in some confusion over whether it will proceed with sackings in public companies, including the debt-ridden Hellenic Railways Organization (OSE). The EU-IMF team said Greece was on course to meet its deficit targets and would receive the second 9-million-euro tranche of the 110 million euros Athens has negotiated to borrow to prop up its ailing economy. When questioned during a news conference yesterday as to whether the inspectors also suggested that the government begin firing workers from public firms, the foreign experts said that a range of options had been discussed with Greek officials and that the matter would be discussed again when ministers finally arrive at a plan. However, speaking on state-run NET TV, Transport Minister Dimitris Reppas suggested that the sackings could begin soon, with some OSE employees losing their jobs. Specifically, he said that between 800 and 1,000 railway workers would either be fired or transferred to other services. In contrast, Finance Minister Giorgos Papconstantinou denied that the government is planning to get rid of workers at OSE or any other public company and that this option has been suggested by the EU-IMF team. «This matter has not been put to me,» he said. «It has not been put to me for a very simple reason: The issue is for us to put together restructuring plans that are convincing, that create viable futures for public companies and utilities, whose deficits have to be reduced dramatically and some of which have to begin making profits.» Papconstantinou told reporters that these restructuring schemes did not involve workers being fired. The finance minister said that the government was looking at ways of reducing the number of people on the payroll of certain state-run firms but that this would be done by transferring them to other bodies within the broader public sector.