Spurious row over university redundancies

Four top officials – the education secretary and the administrative reform minister, the deputy prime minister and the prime minister himself – are arguing over how many administrative staff Greece’s universities need in order to operate properly and efficiently. Are universities themselves not in the best position to decide how many staff they need? Emphatically no, says the government.

Would it not be reasonable to assume that universities themselves, with years of tradition and experience, are the proper bodies and in the best position to decide how many staff they need in order to carry out their mission?

Emphatically no, says the government. Universities can tell the government how many staff they need, but the government will tell them how many they can employ.

Rector Giannis Mylopoulos and Vice-rector Giannis Pandis of Aristotle University of Thessaloniki claim that internationally, the ratio of administration staff to students is one to 10, “but ours is one for every 170 students”.

This kind of statistical comparison, however, does not impress the Greek government.

Staff trade unions are also not impressed. “Disagreements among ministers are spurious and hypocritical, calculated to give the impression that the government is interested in the problems of university administration staff when it is government policies that have created those problems,” claimed representatives of administration staff who have been placed on a mobility scheme and are now facing redundancy.

Last year more than 1,300 admin staff culled from eight universities were placed on the government’s mobility scheme by then education secretary Konstantinos Arvanitopoulos as part of higher education’s contribution to a pool of 25,000 civil servants to be made redundant at the behest of the troika.

Arvanitopoulos was dismissed during the last government reshuffle and new Education Secretary Andreas Loverdos said he was not bound by the decisions of his predecessor and would examine the whole subject from the beginning, throwing a ray of hope in the direction of people on the mobility scheme.

Administrative Reform Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, however, had other ideas. He told Loverdos that only 500 positions were available in the universities. As a gesture of goodwill and as a favour to the new education secretary he was prepared to throw in another 100 but these had to be replaced from another area of the public sector.

In other words, the dismissed staff may apply for less than half of their previously held jobs, and feel grateful to the minister for throwing in a few extra that threaten other people’s jobs.

The ‘troika’

Because of its huge and in effect unmanageable debt, in the last few years Greece has been run by the so-called ‘troika’ – representatives of the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Commission.

In reality it has ceased to be an equal member of the EU and has become little more than a German protectorate. Political and economic decisions are taken either in Brussels or in Berlin by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, and executed by their deputies in Athens and Thessaloniki.

The troika’s latest demand – according to several memoranda that Greece has signed, supposedly for its economic uplift although that appears to be an illusion – is reduction of the public sector by another 15,000 employees by the end of the year.

This will swell even further the ranks of 1.5 million unemployed out of a total four million-strong workforce, 600,000 of whom are civil servants.

The Ministry of Administrative Reform – popularly known as the Ministry of Redundancies – and its incumbent Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, is a staunch supporter of government policies and the demands of the troika.

A scion of the third most powerful family in the country, Mitsotakis ‘inherited’ his parliamentary seat from his father Konstantinos Mitsotakis, a former prime minister with a long and controversial political history.

He has personal ambitions to govern the country but for the time being appears to defer to his sister Dora Bakoyannis, a former foreign affairs minister who is quietly waiting in the wings as a ‘golden reserve’ to be called to assume the leadership of the conservative New Democracy Party if the current Prime Minister Antonis Samaras fails in any way.

Messy politics

Mitsotakis accepted the job of government ‘hatchet man’ on the assumption that any ministry is better than none, and asked all other ministries to compile a list of possible employees who could be placed in the so-called ‘mobility scheme’ for a year at two-thirds of their salary before dismissal.

On the other hand Andreas Loverdos, following the recent cabinet shuffle, returned to a government he had repeatedly criticised during a long period in the cold.

Loved by the media, he has never quite fulfilled his political promise or his challenge for the leadership of the Socialist Party dominated by Evangelos Venizelos. He is now in desperate need to rebuild his political profile after a series of serious drawbacks.

As a labour minister, Loverdos complained that by “living too long pensioners put severe pressure on the pension funds”, and as a health minister he did not hesitate to expose and denigrate in public unfortunate Aids victims, raising a furore of protest.

Now he has been called upon to ‘save’ education and he has taken his role very seriously.

Apparently wanting to endear himself to administration staff, Loverdos came out with a strong statement saying that he proposes to initiate a new method of evaluation and that no redundancies would take place before the process was complete.

But he knew full well that this went against expressed government policy as dictated by the troika, and the row was inevitable.

At a meeting of the four top state politicians, it was agreed to give the new education secretary the opportunity to go ahead with his plan of evaluation – but without giving him consent to increase the number of those staff who would be allowed to re-apply for their jobs.

Industrial action on the cards

Staff representatives denounced the government’s approach to their problem as a ‘travesty’, declaring once again determination to initiate industrial action in order to safeguard the jobs and the proper operation of institutions.

Already the National Technical University of Athens has been closed indefinitely. Athens University is likely to follow and other major universities in the country affected by the measure are expected to join in.

Mitsotakis claims that he has no personal vendetta against university administration staff but is determined to remain faithful to the provisions of the memorandum and the behests of the ‘troika’ for 15,000 redundancies by the end of the year.

If administration staff members are excluded then their number will have to be made up by other sectors in the public domain, which may bring other ministers into conflict with each other.