Public servants cast their shadows on a banner of a labour union during a protest in front of the Parliament in Athens, Sunday April 28, 2013. A few hundred public servants protested peacefully outside the Greek Parliament as lawmakers voted on new austerity bill.(AP Photo/Kostas Tsironis)
ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece’s Parliament approved an emergency bill Sunday to pave the way for thousands of public sector layoffs and free up 8.8 billion euros ($11.5 billion) in international rescue loans.
The bill, which passed in a 168-123 vote, will allow for the first civil service layoffs in more than a century. About 2,000 civil servants will be laid off by the end of May, with another 2,000 following by the end of the year and a further 11,500 by end-2014, for a total of 15,500.
The legislation is the latest wave of Greece’s draconian austerity program. It agreed this month with its bailout rescue lenders — the European Union and International Monetary Fund — to implement the measures as a condition to receive new emergency loans worth 8.8 billion euros ($11.5 billion).
The permanence of civil servant jobs has been enshrined in all constitutions since 1911, a form of protection from wholesale sacking when the government changes hands.
To get around the constitutional protection, the bill stipulates the first layoffs will take place in state agencies that will be disbanded or merged. A provision also aims to bypass, if needed, the notoriously slow and lenient disciplinary councils, which have refused to lay off even people convicted of felonies. More than 2,000 such cases are pending, nearly 600 on appeal.
The civil servants’ union, ADEDY, bitterly opposed the bill’s provisions and called for a protest outside Parliament. Authorities took strict security measures, such as barricading a Parliament entrance since Sunday morning and diverting traffic and shutting down a subway station two hours before the announced start of the protest. In the end, fewer than 300 people showed up.
The bill contained many unrelated provisions, from the payment of back taxes and social security contributions to the end of bakeries’ monopoly in baking bread.
To shorten debate and to present the bill as a sort of confidence vote, the government bundled 110 pages of legislation into a single article. Debate in committee lasted a single day and so did debate in the full Parliament, despite opposition protests and claims of a “parliamentary coup.”