Finance Ministry cleaners protest mass firings

Several hundred cleaners previously employed by Greece's Finance Ministry have been protesting their mass firing.

Submitted by Thrasybulus on June 16, 2014

Hundreds of former cleaners of the Finance Ministry have been continuing their struggle against mass dismissal in the face police violence this week in Athens. This group, who have been protesting and appealing their sacking since September, were told on Thursday by the Supreme Court that their dismal was in the national interest and would go ahead. This dispute is just one of many similar situations playing out across Greece as unemployment remains high and working conditions deteriorate.

In September last year 465 cleaners employed by the Finance Ministry were placed into the so-called mobility scheme. Under the scheme civil service workers are transferred into a reserve pool, on reduced wages, from which they will be fired in full if an alternative employment is not found for them. The mobility scheme is a key part of the austerity drive to reduce the size of the civil service at a time of 27% unemployment. The scheme will involve up to 25,000 workers from various parts of the civil service. Some of these will be rehired but many will be fired.

The cleaners are just one of the groups who have been resisting their placement into the scheme and a dispute is currently on going within the government over how many university administers will also be involved. In response these workers too have recently been out on strike. The current coalition government has fired or transferred into the mobility scheme whole workforces on a number of occasions. The most well known example being the spontaneous sacking of over 2,000 workers with the closer of the public broadcaster ERT one year ago.

The cleaners took their dispute to the courts and were initially successful. In May an Athens court judged that the cleaners should be reinstated. This would have been a significant victory with possible repercussions in other similar cases. The Finance Ministry then appealed to the Supreme Court. On Thursday the decision was handed down that the cleaners could indeed by placed in the mobility scheme and then fired as it was in the national interest to do so. However, the same court recently ruled that wages, which too were lowered due to austerity, should be restored be to the police and military at a potential cost of €500m.

Since September the cleaners have maintained a protest outside the ministry building in central Athens. This brought their struggle and that of other workers against the mobility scheme widespread attention. Their gathering has been attacked several times by the police and the protesters have also met with intimidation from members of fascist Golden Dawn. The most infamous incident occurred as the Supreme Court announced its decision on Thursday. Two cleaners and a journalist were injured with one hospitalised after an attack by the riot police. The attack was caught on video and one policeman can clearly be seen punching a lady in the head with a metal lined glove.

The struggle of the cleaners is just one of a great number of larger and smaller disputes that are ongoing around the country as the government and police continue to implement the austerity demands of the Troika.