The Greek Parliament on May 6 voted to reinstate nearly 4,000 civil servants laid off two years ago as part of the austerity measures imposed on Greece by the nation’s creditors.
SYRIZA, the leftist party that won the Greek elections in January on an anti-austerity platform and now leads the government, promised after it was elected that it would rehire those civil servants who had been laid off in violation of the country’s constitution.
Those who will be rehired include municipal police officers, public school janitors, as well as other civil servants.
The new law also reestablishes the country’s public broadcasting network and calls for the rehiring of its employees who were laid off.
Among those who will be returning to work are 32 women custodial workers who until two years worked for the Ministry of Finance.
After being laid off, the women, who became known as “the cleaning ladies,” set up a protest camp near the Ministry’s offices and vowed to maintain the camp until they were rehired.
The SYRIZA-led government said that more re-hirings and other anti-austerity measures will follow.
“This is not our last word, it’s the first step of (administrative) reforms we’re going to make that won’t be neoliberal but will have a social aspect,” said Giorgos Katrougalos, the deputy minister for administrative reform to the Financial Times.
After learning that their jobs would be restored, the cleaning ladies held a celebration at their protest camp.
“I’m very, very happy (to get) my job back,” said Irene Chantzi to the BBC at the protest camp after learning the news.
Chantzi and the other cleaning ladies were joined by some cabinet members who belong to SYRIZA, including Katrougalos, Nadia Valavani, deputy finance minister, and Nikos Voutsis, interior minister.
The cleaning ladies’ protest camp became a symbol of Greek outrage at the austerity programs imposed on the country.
Last December the cleaning ladies gained wider fame when they traveled to Strasbourg, France and confronted the European Commission about the hardships that they and their fellow countrymen had endured as part of the austerity regime demanded by banks and other Greek creditors.
Greek President Alex Tsipras congratulated the cleaning ladies on their victory and said that they had played an important role in making Europe aware of the hardships caused by the austerity measures.
“Even the Chancellor (Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel), in a meeting that we had and without me bringing it up, referred to how unfair what the previous government did to you was,” said Tsipras to the group. “Your fight was known abroad because it was a fair fight.”
The current Minister of Finance, Yanis Varoufakis also expressed support for the cleaning ladies and said that when the SYRIZA-led government speaks of reform it means change that will help people like the cleaning ladies not change that satisfies the desires of capital.
“We remind (creditors) that our government has a different perception of what constitutes a reform,” Mr Varoufakis said.to the Wall Street Journal.
Greece has been in negotiations with other European countries to reach an agreement on changes that Greece must make in order to receive €7.2 billion in loans that Greece needs to stabilize its economy, which crashed in 2010 when creditors demanded that their loans be repaid immediately.
The troika is demanding changes to the economy that will weaken unions, privatize more government services and resources, reduce pensions, and give the demands of creditors priority over the needs of the people.
Greece in return is demanding that it be allowed to carry out its anti-austerity proposals that were emphatically endorsed by the Greek public when in January it elected SYRIZA to lead the country.
Varoufakis and Tsipras have expressed confidence that the two sides can find some common ground that will make it possible for Greece to receive the €7.2 billion.
On May 12, Greece made a €750 million loan repayment to its creditors that the government sees as a good faith gesture that will help it secure the money it needs.
On May 11, Varoufakis met in Brussels with other European finance ministers in hopes of sealing a deal.
No agreement was reached, but Varoufakis said that some progress was made thanks to efforts by the Greek government.
“In recent weeks there has been considerable convergence, primarily due to our government’s great efforts and major concessions during the Brussels Group negotiations,” said Varoufakis at a media briefing. “Today’s Eurogroup meeting has acknowledged the strides we have made, and was conducted in a thoroughly positive atmosphere.”