ATHENS – With the country on the edge of default and almost broke, Greece’s new government said it will still rehire 4,000 fired workers, including cleaning ladies who had been a cause celebre for anti-austerity protesters.
The cleaning ladies, many from the Finance Ministry, were fired by the previous government led by the New Democracy Conservatives who spared Parliament workers and others said to have political protection.
That came after demands from the country’s international lenders to pare the bloated working force but Prime Minister and Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras vowed ahead of the Jan. 25 snap elections to bring back fired workers even though there may not be enough money to pay them.
The cleaning ladies daily embarrassed the previous government by conducting protests in front of the Finance Ministry, gaining international attention for their plight.
The Parliament on May 8 approved legislation for the re-hirings of the public workers who were let go as part of austerity measures.
Greece, despite the tough measures, is allowed to hire one worker for every five who leave, giving Tsipras a technical out.
“This is an unorganized, irresponsible settlement of your party’s pre-election pledges,” opposition lawmaker Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the former Administrative Reforms Minister who was New Democracy’s hatchet man and fired the workers.
The previous government had intended for hirings this year to be focused mainly on the health and education sectors.
Tsipras received a jubilant group of about 50 cleaning ladies at his office.
“Even the Chancellor, in a meeting that we had and without me bringing it up, referred to how unfair what the previous government did to you was,” Tsipras told the group, in an apparent reference to German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Germany is putting up much of the 240 billion euros ($260 billiion) in two bailouts but demanded big pay cuts, tax hikes, slashed pensions and the firings.
“Your fight was known abroad because it was a fair fight,” said Tsipras.
An official at the administrative reforms ministry said the reinstatement of the workers would have an annual cost of 33.5 million euros ($37.8 million) that was already included in the country’s 2015 budget plan approved with last year.
The 3,928 workers to be rehired include 2,100 who were fired outright and another 1,900 in a so-called labor reserve where workers received partial salaries while they waited to see if they would be moved into new jobs.
The state was already paying salaries for about 1,000 school guards in the reserve, limiting costs involved in their hiring, the ministry official said.