Salary cut proposal prompts industrial action by academics

An overall 17.5% salary cut proposed by a Greek government desperately seeking €11.8 billion (US$15.4 billion) to balance next year’s budget, has become casus belli – a justification for war – for academics, who are withdrawing their labour during the autumn examination period and threatening further industrial action.

Academics – who together with judges, police, armed forces and fire brigade officers belong to special civil service pay-lists – point out that, unlike their colleagues, they have not received increases since 2004 and have in fact suffered a 25% cut in salaries in the past four years.

The president of Technological Institutes Teachers, Professor Giannis Tsaknis, claimed that if the government’s proposals were accepted – graduated reductions starting at 5% on the lowest level of salary and rising to 35% for the highest – then a newly appointed judge at a magistrates court would be earning more than his professor at law school.

“Currently, after 25 years of service, I am receiving €2,000 net and after the 35% reduction I’ll be forced to give up my house because I will not be able to afford the rent,” said Eugenia Bournova, general secretary of the Federation of University Teachers Associations.

While other civil servants on the special pay-lists have received increases over the years, the salaries of university lecturers have been frozen, and in 2010 they also lost all supplements they had been receiving, the federation president, Professor Nikos Stavrakakis, pointed out.

“We do not deny that the country is in a difficult financial position,” he said. “But of all the civil servants in the special pay-lists, university teachers are the most unfairly treated.”

The salaries of academics in Greece are far lower than the salaries of colleagues in the rest of the European Union, with the exception of Hungary, according to a survey published in a leading Greek newspaper, Ta Nea, this month.

According to the survey, a lecturer with 15 years' service in Greece is paid €2,275, while in Austria the salary is €3,916, in Belgium €3,552, Cyprus €4,198, Finland €3,200, France €3,296, Germany €3,407, Holland €5,250, Hungary €689, Ireland €5,150, Italy €3,267, Portugal €3,252 and Spain €2,800.

If the cuts are implemented, lecturers in Greece will lose 35% of their current salary or €750, widening the gap with colleagues in the rest of Europe.

Under such circumstances, the federation warned, young academics who graduate in foreign universities will not return to Greece to teach or will seek employment abroad, and as a result higher education quality will gradually fall and make it even more difficult for the country to overcome the financial crisis.

University teacher representatives have written to Finance Minister Giannis Stournaras proposing the return of all special pay-lists to pre-2001 levels including the restoration of all supplements and their inclusion in the basic salary, with a simultaneous start of discussions for an integrated pay-list for all civil servants.

But the proposal was rejected.

Meanwhile, university rectors are meeting in a special synod to consider the proposed cuts in salaries, problems faced by institutions as a result of reductions in state funding, and what steps to take in order to implement the new educational law following recent amendments.