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April 17, 2013

Greek Health, Civil Workers Protest Cutbacks

by Reuters

Workers in health care walked off the job on Wednesday leaving hospitals with skeleton staff to protest the problems the sector is facing following government cutbacks, while civil servants also took to the streets over dismissals.

Doctors, nurses, hospital staff and ambulance drivers participated in the action outside the Ministry of Health.

The health sector has faced many difficulties since the government began its program to reform the economy in 2010. There have been supply and drug shortages in hospitals, cuts to staff wages, overtime pay, and jobs, resulting in understaffing, and hospitals have been shut down. Hospitals have been flooded with new unemployed who have lost their health care insurance and cannot pay for health care.

"What I am afraid of is the tsunami of poor and homeless people who flood the hospital clinics every night, and you don't have enough time to treat them," said nurse Zoe Florou. "And most of all, they don't have free medical care...It is unacceptable and I cannot accept the idea that a person cannot have free medical care. Don't they understand that this is an issue of human survival?'' 

The President of the Greek Hospital Workers Federation Stavros Koutsioubelis said that surgeries had to be cancelled. "We cannot operate, because the hospitals don't have money, they don't have supplies. Suppliers are not stocking hospitals any more. It is a vicious circle that we are fighting if we try and surpass the crisis by using state funds to support the health system,'' Koutsioubelis said.

The government has said the health care system was riddled with bloated costs and corruption, as it reduces state spending to trim the debt.

The main civil servants union of Greece, the Confederation of Civil Servants also staged a work stoppage and joined the demonstration of hospital workers, after the government announced plans to fire 15,000 civil servants by next year as part of a reform program that was approved by the troika on Monday. It will then instead hire young, educated Greeks into the civil service in an attempt to reduce the high unemployment rate among youth. In total, it must have cut 150,000 jobs in the civil service between 2010 and 2015.

Firing civil servants is a highly controversial issue in the Mediterranean country as politicians historically used jobs in the civil service for votes and were until now hesitant to fire them.

The civil service, which numbers over 700,000 employees, has been criticized for becoming bloated with workers, inefficient, corrupt, and costly. It has drawn heavy criticism from the private sector, where unemployment has been increasing amidst the crisis while public servants have been untouched.

Greece received a clean bill of health from the 'troika' - inspectors of its international creditors of the European Union and International Monetary Fund, on Monday, paving the way for more financial aid, after the coalition government agreed to the dismissals and showed the country was following through on reforms to clean up the economy.

Unemployment has hit a record high of 27.2 percent, but recent polls show that most Greeks want the reform of the public sector and its services.