Greece approves scheme to fire thousands of public workers

Greece's Prime Minister Antonis Samaras (R) and Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras attend a parliament session during a vote on a series of reforms that must be passed before the European Union and
Greece’s Prime Minister Antonis Samaras (R) and Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras attend a parliament session during a vote on a series of reforms that must be passed before the European Union and

Greece’s shaky coalition government scraped through a vote on Wednesday on a bill to sack public sector workers as thousands chanting anti-austerity slogans protested outside parliament.

The vote was the first major test for Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’s two-party coalition since losing an ally over the abrupt shutdown of the state broadcaster last month, which left it with a scant five-seat majority in the 300-seat parliament.

After midnight on Wednesday, 153 lawmakers out of the 293 present voted in favor of the bill, whose passage was required to unlock nearly 7 billion euros ($9.2 billion) in aid from European Union and International Monetary Fund lenders.

The bill includes deeply divisive plans for a transfer and layoff scheme for 25,000 public workers – mainly teachers and municipal police – that had triggered a week of almost daily marches, rallies and strikes in protest.

About 5,000 Greeks flooded the street outside parliament as the vote neared, with some chanting: “We will not succumb, the only option is to resist” and holding aloft black balloons – though turnout was much smaller than in protests last year.

“After 12 years on the job, they fire us in one night,” Patra Hatziharalampous, a 52-year-old school guard in uniform said between sobs. “If they have any guts, they should say no to the bailout and take some of the bill’s articles back.”

The reforms were passed hours before German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble – Europe’s leading proponent of austerity blamed by many Greeks for their woes – arrives in Athens for his first visit to Greece since the debt crisis began in 2009.

Before the vote, Samaras announced Greece’s first tax cut since its crisis began nearly four years ago, in a bid to placate protests and an increasingly restive public mood.

“We will not relax,” Samaras said in a surprise television address to announce that value-added tax (VAT) in restaurants would be cut to 13 percent from 23 percent starting August 1.

“We will continue climbing up the hill, we will reach the top, which is not far, and better days will come for our people.”

In a clip that became an instant hit on social media site Twitter, television stations accidentally showed Samaras fumbling at an initial attempt to read the statement and swearing “Damn my head, ******” as he walked off the podium.

“DRAWING BLOOD”

The government had made a show of arguing for the restaurant VAT cut during its latest talks with lenders, and analysts said the move was a symbolic attempt to show austerity-hit Greeks that there was light at the end of the tunnel.

Samaras said the cut would help curb tax evasion, a major problem in the country and one of the reasons it slid into a debt crisis in 2009, but warned that if evasion persisted VAT would revert to 23 percent.

“The crucial thing is that it was announced now and not after the summer,” said Thomas Gerakis, head of Marc Pollsters. “How it will benefit consumers remains to be seen.”

Athens has been limping along on two bailouts worth over 240 billion euros ($315 billion) since 2010, which it has secured at the price of wage cuts and tax rises that have triggered a six-year recession and sent unemployment to 27 percent.

The latest bill agreed with lenders includes a luxury tax on houses with swimming pools and owners of high performance cars.

But the move that has drawn the most anger is the plan to place 25,000 workers into the layoff scheme by the end of 2013, giving them eight months to find another position or get laid off. Greece’s public sector is widely seen as oversized, inefficient and filled with patronage hires, but many Greeks believe society can no longer go tolerate cuts or tax hikes.

Uniformed municipal police, garbage collectors in orange vests and hundreds of other public sector workers have taken to the streets of Athens almost daily on motorbikes in over a week of protests, blowing whistles, honking horns and blaring sirens.

($1 = 0.7612 euros)

($1 = 0.7637 euros)

 



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

Brooklyn man charged in roommate's stabbing death

A Brooklyn man accused of violently stabbing his roommate to death on Monday is in police custody and faces murder charges.

International

Dinosaurs could have survived asteroid strike

It turns out there is a good and a bad time for the planet to be hit by a meteor, and dinosaurs were just unlucky.…

National

OkCupid admits to Facebook-style experimenting on customers

By Sarah McBrideSAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - OkCupid, a top U.S. matchmaking website, intentionally mismatched users to test its technology, the IAC/InterActive Corp service said on…

Local

MTA fares still increasing 4 percent in newly…

The agency said the 4 percent increases, previously announced in December, will remain steady even as the MTA deals with increasing labor costs.

Movies

Interview: Brendan Gleeson on the way 'Calvary' depicts…

Brendan Gleeson talks about how his new film "Calvary" began over drinks and how his character here is the opposite of the lead in "The Guard."

Movies

'Get on Up' producer Mick Jagger on the…

Mick Jagger, a producer on the James Brown biopic "Get on Up," talks about the time had to tell the singer some bad news and his favorite JB record.

Television

'Glee' star Lea Michele to appear on 'Sons…

"Glee" star Lea Michele has been confirmed as a guest star in the final season of "Sons of Anarchy."

Television

TV watch list, Monday, July 28: 'The Bachelorette'…

See Andi Dorfman make her big choice on tonight's 'Bachelorette' finale.

MLB

Angelo Cataldi: Ryan Howard deserves better from Phillies

Just last week, Ryan Howard endured the embarrassment of a benching that was inevitable, and yet still shocking.

NFL

Larry Donnell has inside track in Giants tight…

Little-known Larry Donnell of Grambling State currently has the inside track, as the second-year player has received the bulk of the first-team reps.

NFL

Computer to Jets: Start Michael Vick over Geno…

Jets general manager John Idzik says the choice of who starts between second-year quarterback Geno Smith and veteran Michael Vick will be a “Jets decision.”

MLB

Yankees looking to trade for Josh Willingham: Report

CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reported Sunday the Yankees are interested in Twins outfielder Josh Willingham.

Travel

Glasgow: Hey, hey, the gangs aren't here

This European city has done a good job getting rid of its more violent residents and revitalizing with artists.

Education

Babson College tops list of best colleges for…

Money magazine has just released its inaugural list of "The Best Colleges for Your Money" -- and the answers have surprised many. Babson College, which…

Education

NYC teens learn how to develop apps during…

Through a program sponsored by CampInteractive, the high schoolers designed their own community-focused apps.

Tech

The Ministry of Silly Walks app is both…

Monty Python have dug into their back catalogue for cash-ins once more, but with the Ministry of Silly Walks app, they've made something that's fun too.