Time bandits in the public sector

The clash between Justice Minister Antonis Roupakiotis and Administrative Reform Minister Antonis Manitakis over a measure aimed at removing contract workers from their posts in the public administration when their term ends allows us to see how the mechanism of inertia blocks every reform and will show whether Prime Minister Antonis Samaras is able and willing to change things. The issue is of the greatest political importance, as evidenced by the government being forced to withdraw the measure temporarily. It concerns public sector layoffs, something which goes against the very nature of our parties.

Specific people are being called on to undertake a burden that generations of their predecessors avoided – to sign a decision that undermines the foundations of our political system. Indicative of the pressure is that Roupakiotis did not shrink from loudly rejecting the reform adopted by Manitakis, even though both were placed in the government at the urging of the same party, Democratic Left. Also, Manitakis, a professor of constitutional law, is being criticized by Roupakiotis, a labor lawyer by profession, and other lawyers, for the alleged unconstitutionality of the reform. The critics’ argument is that a law cannot be allowed to strike down judicial decisions. That is correct. But when a reform is aimed at eradicating a warped system, in which contract workers stayed on their jobs for years after their term ended, on the basis of temporary injunctions, it is clear that the law needs fixing. According to the Reform Ministry, in the municipalities of Athens and Thessaloniki alone, about 3,000 workers are still on the payroll years after their contracts ended, as their cases take four or five years to get to court. People who knew that they were hired for a fixed term can then claim that they are filling urgent needs and should stay in their jobs. For the most part, they are right – but only as a result of a warped system.

Roupakiotis’s stand is that of the public functionary who chooses to interpret the law solely on the basis of his own interests. For labor lawyers, the system of temporary injunctions from a lower court, which keeps people on the public payroll, has been a gold mine. No one wants to see people lose their jobs, but when a system is fixed so as to undermine legality (and turn fixed contracts into open-ended ones), then it is imperative to restore order. When a minister waves the banner of “Democracy and Rights,” and declares that he opposes “every violent action that jeopardizes them,” as Roupakiotis did, then we wonder whether Democracy and Rights exist only for those who can exploit the system or for the society that pays them beyond the agreed term. We know the answer: It brought us to this dead end.

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