GREECE: Lecturers face savage salary cuts

Greece is in the midst of a financial maelstrom but so far education has escaped the worst effects. Higher education institutions, however, have been called on to cut their operating expenses by 10% while lecturers and staff, who are civil servants, face savage wage and salary cuts in an industry that absorbs just under 3% of GNP, the lowest in the European Union.

Education in Greece is the responsibility of the state and all teachers are civil servants. They face a reduction in their basic salary and a further cut, or the total abolition, of a series of supplements they were to receive as a result of government policies to drastically reduce the civil service.

Although the Federation of University Teachers' Associations in principle supports the government's efforts to reform the country's economy, it disagrees with measures that affect lower incomes and in particular the reduction in operating expenses of the institutions and the attack on lecturer incomes.

The federation's executive council said in a statement that the income of lecturers had remained unchanged for more than six years. Yet other civil servants, such as judges, doctors and military officers, received substantial increases, in many cases 99% of the basic salary.

Lecturer incomes are made up by as much as 50% by supplements for professional activities favoured by successive governments rather than increases in the basic salary. With their abolition, the majority of university teachers will have their incomes reduced on average between EUR200 and EUR500 a month.

At a time when university staff are the main carriers of the country's economic and social development, the federation said that while it does not object "to lending" its resources to the government, it would like a specific time scale for the exit from the crisis and the restoration of the lost income as soon as possible.

If assurances were not given, the federation warned it would advise its members to consider industrial action after Easter.

The fiscal crisis is not only the result of the world financial meltdown but has its roots in the inept policies of successive governments as well as fickle EU policies. On the one hand, the latter proclaim solidarity and equality for all Europeans while on the other keep incomes low in Southern Europe as well as a privileged ground for their exports, particularly arms, which keep their own industries in full employment

When in opposition and before the general election of last October, the current 'socialist' government of Prime Minister George Papandreou proclaimed that although the economy was in dire straits there was enough money available to put the country back into a development orbit and sustain the kind of growth to prosperity which the then conservative government's policies had arrested.

Education, health, pensions and the incomes of the lowest paid would not be reduced, Papandreou insisted. Greeks rewarded Papandreou with a convincing victory, sweeping his party to power and punishing the conservatives with the worst defeat they had suffered.

Six months later, not one single person in the country does not realise that Papandreou and his government, with a little help from the Brussels fat-cats, have thrown away all their pre-election promises. They are taking tougher and even more unpopular measures than the conservatives would have taken had they been returned to power.

Hearing leaders of rich and developed countries such as Germany and France demanding restrictions on the standard of living of less-developed countries within the EU alliance is as exasperating as non-elected officials with huge salaries and pensions demanding reductions in these areas for low-paid workers and pensioners.

Led by these baying wolves, the 'socialist' government released an unprecedented attack on the incomes of the civil servants, the lower paid and the socially underprivileged. At the same time, the government not only left the rich and the powerful untouched but gave them the opportunity to export their assets out of the country by announcing that it intended to tax savings.

As a result, just over EUR8 billion (as much as the budget deficit) left the country and was transferred to foreign banks abroad.

European leaders and officials believe Greece should be left to solve its own economic problems because they falsely believe the Greeks have been basking in some kind of luxurious standard of living while their European counterparts had to suffer cuts in their salaries and increases in their taxes.

The opposite is true: Greek wages and salaries are still lower than 70% of those in the rest of Europe. The Greek defence expenditure is 4.5%, the highest in Europe behind France, England and Germany, and the fifth in the world after the US, Russia and China.

The cost of the 2004 Olympic Games, which European friends and partners imposed on the country for the benefit of their own industries, remains a huge burden on Greek people.

Greeks have many faults but they do not deserve to become the guinea pigs of the European industrial nations to reduce the cost of labour and test the strength of the common currency.

They are not responsible either for the deficit in the EU or their own economic problems. It follows then that they should not be responsible for paying for these crises.

If someone has to pay, it is the all of the Greek people, rich and poor, as well as the European member states on the basis of the numerous treaties for solidarity they have signed.

This take on the reasons for Greece's current fiscal crisis, blaming Europe and markets, is a convenient way of deflecting criticism. The author has been an adamant critic of efforts to reform higher education in Greece, and a proponent of a sense of entitlement to increased government spending that exists in similar forms in every sector of the Greek economy. By spending to appease such requests and shirking any efforts at reform to promote efficient use of public resources, successive Greek governments have overspent on poor quality public services to the extent that now lenders are demanding higher premiums because of concerns that Greece will not be able to pay back future borrowing. This article should have been edited back to focus on the financing of higher education rather than UWN publishing such a populist and nationalistic rant. There are many higher education scholars in Greece who have seen such a funding crisis on the cards for many years and have been advocating reform of higher education finances and pubic finances more broadly. Your Greek correspondent would do well to let your readers hear what they have to say, and a range of other actors in higher education (not just the teachers union, whose views are very predictable).

Christopher Ziguras,
Associate Professor in International Studies,
RMIT University,