1. Teachers’ strike
Teachers are threatening to go on strike starting 17 May, on the day when national university entry exams are due to begin, to protest a series of new measures proposed by the Ministry of Education. More specifically, the teachers denounce the increase of teaching hours, the proposed decree to enable obligatory transfers of teachers, and the decree for evaluation of teachers, which they describe as a punitive framework which may even lead to sackings. Furthermore, the Greek Federation of Secondary Education State School Teachers says that the government intends to sack 10,000 substitute teachers in September and is creating a climate of fear in schools by imposing new disciplinary measures and expressing the intent to put on furlough hundreds of teachers.
A majority of the Federation’s board claim to be in favour of the strike, but the procedural demands of unions affiliated with New Democracy and PASOK seem intended in reality to torpedo the decision-making process. It must be noted here that, while unions affiliated with New Democracy and PASOK still hold a majority of seats on the board, the internal election process which is under way appears likely to result in a radically different balance of political influence within the Federation.
On its side, the Ministry of Education, together with media friendly to the government, launched a public relations offensive to turn public opinion against teachers. The government’s argument chiefly revolves around the idea that Greek teachers work less than other educationalists in the EU, by repeating systematically a figure of 16 teaching hours per week for secondary education teachers. However, data provided by the Federation’s Centre for Studies and Documentation shows that the actual number of weekly teaching hours delivered by Greek teachers, at 18.5, matches the European average, while the Greek number of working weeks is slightly above the EU average. Furthermore, the official total of working hours per week of Greek teachers, including administrative duties, stands at 30, but in reality is closer to 40 due to a shortage of administrative staff. Combined with preparation of lessons and correction of tests, the actual working hours of Greek teachers are thus far above a 40-hour working week as is considered appropriate in most professions.
A meeting between union representatives and the ministry on Thursday 09 May was fruitless, leading to rumours of a possible civil mobilization of teachers to ensure that national exams can take place normally. On Friday, the Federation’s Board voted by 9 votes in favour and two against to walk out on the first day of the national examinations on 17 May and then continue the strike on 20-24 May. Regional teachers’ unions will hold general assemblies next week to approve or reject the decision. Should the strike move ahead, further assemblies will be held to decide on future action.
The government apparently reacted immediately to the teachers’ intention to go on strike by deciding to mobilize them. Available reports on Friday evening stated that the process had been launched to announce civil mobilization on Monday and print mobilization orders for distribution to 86,000 teachers. “The national university entry exams will take place normally as planned. The Prime Minister and the government are determine to guarantee the serenity and calm of parents and pupils.” This was the statement of Minister of Education Konstantinos Arvanitopoulos after his meeting with Prime Minister Samaras, who, in an unprecedented move, seems to have decided to proceed with mobilization before the decision to go on strike is even approved by teachers’ regional assemblies.
Teachers going on strike during the university entry exams is considered as the nuclear option. The last time this happened in Greece was in 1988.
Decades of mismanagement of the education sector but also of public administrations at large have resulted in a chronic shortage of staff in Greek schools, especially in provincial and rural areas. A botched attempt by the PASOK government in 2009-2010 to reshuffle the teaching force in order to cover the gaps, together with restrictions on recruitment of substitute teachers due to austerity measures, resulted in making the situation even worse.
2. National collective labour convention
The National Collective Labour Convention will stop being in effect as of 14 May, as well as the extension period of 45 sector-based conventions. As a result under the terms of the bailout package voted in February 2012, workers previously covered by these conventions will lose their marriage allowance and any other sector-specific allowances, leading to cutbacks to their wages of 10 to 20%. Furthermore, 350,000 unskilled workers previously covered by the National Convention will also face pay cuts if a new convention is not signed. Negotiations are under way between representatives of employers and workers for a new convention but stalled so far on the issue of the minimum wage.
The Hellenic Statistics Authority released this week updated figures for unemployment in Greece as of February 2013. According to their press release, the unemployment rate in February 2013 was 27.0% compared to 21.9% in February 2012
and 26.7% in January 2013. Τhe number of unemployed individuals amounted to 1.3 million people from a total workforce of just under 4.9 million.
Unemployment is higher among women than men, at 31% vs 24%. The age group hardest hit is youth aged under 25, among whom the unemployment rate reaches a whooping 64.2%.
Source: Hellenic Statistics Authority
4. Arrest of a member of Golden Dawn for assault and murder
The alleged perpetrator of a brutal attack on a 23-year-old woman who passed away last week after three weeks in a coma handed himself over the the police, claiming that the death of his girlfriend was due to an accident. The man is however known to have extreme-rightwing sympathies and to be prone to physical violence. He was arrested last June after severely beating six Communist Party members outside an election kiosk in a northern suburb of Athens, sending at the time a municipal councillor to the hospital.
Source: Eleftherotypia (English)
5. New bill against racism
Meanwhile, Mayor of Athens Giorgos Kaminis filed a lawsuit against Golden Dawn MP Germenis following the MP’s physical assault against him last week during a Golden Dawn distribution of food for Greeks only in Athens. This came as the Ministry of Justice announced that it had prepared a new bill against racism, which reportedly includes tougher sanctions for racist violence in general but also for mimicking or praising fascist and Nazi attitudes and values, particularly by political figures. The announcement was hailed by Greek media and by the leader of the Greek Jewish community at the World Jewish Congress. However, the exact scope of this law and the constitutionality of specific provisions pertaining to lifting automatically the immunity of MPs who engage in fascist discourse inside parliament are questionable. For more details, you can read our recent post about the legal framework against racism in Greece. On Friday, government sources announced that the proposed bill would be further revised before being submitted to parliament due to possible problems it may face during the discussion.
Disturbing news emerged on Thursday that two Afghan farm workers in Manolada, Peloponnese, were stabbed after claiming €350 in unpaid wages for 45 days of work. More disturbing still is the fact that their attackers were themselves Afghan workers who act as middlemen between workers and their employers. The two attackers were arrested on Friday.
Manolada made international headlines two weeks ago when three foremen shot into a crowd of approximately 200 immigrant workers who were demanding payment, sending 28 of them to hospital with serious wounds. The tragedy brought to the forefront of public debate the issue of inhuman working conditions and exploitation of undocumented migrants by employers, which, in the case of Manolada is well-documented since 2008.
7. Athens airport
The German company Hochtief sold its 40% stake in the Athens International Airport to Canadian pension fund PSP Investments as part of a larger sale of its airport management business. The remaining stakes are held at 5% by a private investor and 55% by the Greek State, which plans to privatize it. Chinese investors had recently expressed interest in purchasing the airport, including the Hochtief share.
SYRIZA-affiliated website left.gr noted that the Greek government allowed for the sale to go through despite the fact that Hochtief owes more than €1 billion to Greek social security and pension funds, which will likely never be paid.
The government’s tolerance of Hochtief’s avoidance of payment of social contributions is not a unique case. Hochtief was allowed in the past to get away with not paying €400 million in VAT, while there are other multinational companies, for example Starbucks, who have not paid a single euro in tax despite having large-scale operations in Greece for several years, under the argument that they are allegedly making losses.
The residents of Halkidiki who oppose plans to develop a gold and copper mine in their region, which is of exceptional biodiversity and natural beauty, have been going up the Kakavos mountain every day this week to protest tree-cutting in the basin of the Karatzas stream. The mining company is pressing forward with logging despite guarantees by the local forestry authorities and the regional police leadership that the validity of the company’s permits for such activities would be re-examined. The lumberjacks are working under heavy riot police guard. On Friday morning, the riot policemen assaulted the protesting residents with liberal amounts of teargas, despite the fact that there was no provocation.
9. Electoral fines
7 MPs from 5 political parties, New Democracy, SYRIZA, PASOK, Independent Greeks and Democratic Left, managed to squeeze into the ratification of an act of legislative content a special provision to reduce the fines imposed on candidates who violated rules of campaign financing in the 2010 regional and municipal elections. The original fines, which ranged from €10,000 to €100,000, were cut down to 10% of their original amount, from €1,000 to €10,000.
Acts of legislative content are an emergency legislative procedure under the terms of the Greek Constitution, allowing essentially government ministers to issue, in exceptional circumstances, decrees which are immediately enforceable and must be ratified by parliament within three months to become permanent law. The current government has been abusing the procedure to pass a variety of unpopular measures that might have been voted down by parliament, but also to push through bits and pieces of legislation that favour specific individuals or groups.
10. Greeks emigrating to Germany
Newspaper Eleftherotypia reported this week that the number of immigrants coming to Germany from crisis-hit countries of the European South rose by more than 40% from the previous year, leading to the biggest surge in immigration the country has seen in nearly 20 years.
A total of 34,109 people came from Greece, a rise of 43% compared to the previous year. Immigration from Spain, Portugal and Italy also rose by 40-45%.
“The rise in immigration from EU countries hit by the financial and debt crisis is particularly strong,” the Federal Statistics Office said. The numbers from southern Europe remain however much smaller in total terms compared to those from eastern European countries such as Poland and Romania.
The financial and economic crisis has led to a renewal of emigration from Greece, particularly among young, educated people. The impact of this brain drain has not been measured to date but is believed to be considerable in the long run.
Sources: Eleftherotypia English
An example of a sector that can be expected to be affected by this brain drain is higher education. There are at this time 800 faculty members who have been elected in Greek universities and higher technical institutes, but who are not taking up their posts because the government refuses to allocate the budget necessary for their salaries. Furthermore, the situation of higher education is constantly deteriorating due to various cuts to higher education budgets, for example the fact that the Ministry of Development is not releasing €9 million to cover the cost of subscriptions to electronic journals, despite the fact that this budget has been approved by the Ministry of Education, which will lead to subscriptions being suspended.
However, the constant criticism of the poor performance of Greek public universities by the government, who is using this argument to promote the legalization of private higher education, did not prevent several departments of five Greek universities from being ranked among the world’s 200 best in the QS World University Rankings. These are the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, the National Technical University of Athens, the Athens University of Economy and Business, and the University of Patras.
12. Immigration management
The European Commission announced this that it is allocating €87 million to Greece for management of the immigration issue. The breakdown of the funds shows that the allocation is heavily oriented towards restrictive policies. €44 million will go to border policing and control and €35 million to voluntary and forced repatriation programmes, whereas only €4 million are intended for integration programmes for migrants and only €3 million for support to refugees. This is in line with the priorities of the Greek government, who has built a fence along the Evros border with Turkey and has been conducting for several months a sweep operation dubbed Xenios Zeus for undocumented migrants. However, the results of the operation seem to belie the very need for it: only 5,311 people have been arrested to date for lacking legal residence documents, and the police stopped providing data on the number of individuals who were controlled. The latest available figures for both, dated 15 February, show that only 5.6% of more than 80,000 migrants who were detained under Xenios did not fulfill conditions for legal residence in Greece.
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