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Greece Pledges to Cut Thousands of Jobs That Were 'Constitutionally Guaranteed' For Life

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In modern Greece,the average citizen's "dream job" is in the public sector.

And why not? State employees get generous pay and benefits, less work than their private sector counterparts and — above all — enjoy constitutionally guaranteed jobs for life.

Well, they used to.

In a move that has shocked many, Greece's government has cracked under pressure and is agreeing to ax thousands of public sector jobs as part of a new austerity bill to be voted by parliament Thursday.

The plan, meant to save some €300 million ($415 million), calls for about 30,000 civil servants to be placed in a "labor reserve," suspended on greatly reduced pay for up to two years.

The implications are far reaching in a country where one in five salaries are paid by the government (ever wonder why they're broke?).

Most will by then have reached retirement age and entitled to full pensions, and others will be shifted to other civil service jobs. But, under a constitutional loophole, up to 9,000 face joining the growing ranks of the unemployed that in July hit 820,000, or 16.5 percent of the work force. In comparison, public servants number about 780,000.

The layoffs will break a century-old taboo: Civil servants were granted lifelong job protection in 1911, because until then each newly elected government would organize extensive purges to appoint its own political supporters.

Tradition has it those newly fired workers would gather to bemoan their fate outside the interior ministry building, on a central Athens square that is still known as Klafthmonos — the Wailing Square.

Most Greeks argue that political clientelism was never really stamped out, with successive administrations hiring their cronies, a process that just bloated the civil service as people hired by previous governments could be sidelined but not sacked.

"The party-dominated state is to blame for the ills of public administration," said Nikos Alexopoulos, an interior ministry employee and union leader with 18 years service in the public sector, in a recent Washington Examiner article.

"You have civil servants who are backed by their local member of parliament, to whom they take their problems. The deputy then goes to a minister, who handles the matter. And this problem is perpetuated by all parties represented in parliament, not just those in government each time."

Stefanos Manos, a conservative finance minister in the early 1990s, described the government cuts as timid, dooming the country to default.

"I don't think our creditors should keep paying us loan installments," he told Skai television, "There is only one solution: take a knife to all unnecessary expenses ... It's unbelievable to say this, but after all these cuts, the government will still spend more money than it did last year."

Manos suggested firing more than 100,000 public servants in a three-year transition.

Maybe not a bad idea.

Of course Greek unions, reject the planned labor reserve as irrational and arbitrary, arguing that it will weaken the civil service without addressing existing staff imbalances.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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