GREEK LAWMAKERS PREPARED to vote late on Wednesday on a controversial new austerity package involving a huge shake-up of the civil service with thousands of jobs on the line.
The vote, to be held around midnight, is going ahead despite mass protests against the reforms imposed in return for fresh bailout funds.
Under the proposed reforms, thousands of civil servants including teachers and municipal police will have eight months to find new posts elsewhere or accept those offered to them. Otherwise, they would lose their jobs.
About 4,200 people are due to be redeployed already by the end of July.
Overall, Greece must redeploy 25,000 civil servants and fire another 4,000 by the end of the year.
Prime Minister Antonis Samaras defended the unpopular measure, promising “better days” for Greeks as he announced a 10 percent drop in restaurant sales tax to boost the tourist season.
“Better days will come for our people,” Samaras said in a televised address hours before the vote.
“We will not let up. We will climb uphill and reach the end, which is not far.”
Samaras has been under heavy pressure this past month to hold his government together after losing one of his coalition allies in June in the wake of an earlier round of job cuts affecting state broadcaster ERT.
On Wednesday, a private station aired footage of the PM fumbling his statement during one of the readings and muttering “fuck me, what a wanker” in a misstep caught on camera.
Parliament must approve the bill for Greece to receive its next instalment of 6.8 billion euros in rescue funds cleared by eurozone finance ministers.
The government has a five-seat majority, enough to pass the legislation.
The size, cost, efficiency and contractual conditions of the public sector workforce in Greece have been in the sights of the IMF and EU ever since they moved in with the bailout programme and associated conditions for reforms.
The bill also covers a partial overhaul of the tax system, including the introduction of new criteria for taxable income and the adjustment of tax thresholds.
About 4,000 civil servants, according to a police source, gathered on Wednesday in Athens’ central Syntagma square near the parliament to protest against the vote.
The two main unions have planned another protest for later in the day, closer to the time of the vote to be held late at night.
Municipal employees have been on strike since Monday.
On Tuesday, more than 20,000 people protested in Athens and Greece’s second city Thessaloniki during a general strike called by the main unions.
“I am now jobless, thanks to a piece of paper that has not even been voted into law,” Dionyssis Vassis, head of technical instructors at public vocational schools who protested in Athens, told AFP.
His work is one of the 52 specialities taught at vocational schools that will be abolished from next week, according to the bill which leading union GSEE has called a “tombstone” for Greek workers.
Greece has been forced to implement a series of painful reforms over the past four years in exchange for 240 billion euros in rescue funds put up by the European Union and International Monetary Fund.
The sweeping job, pay and pension cuts have hit Greeks hard, sparking mass protests and general strikes.
Now in its sixth year running of recession and with the unemployment rate at a record 27 percent, Greece is not expected to post growth before 2014.