Greece: Teaching union leader victim of new cuts

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — The leader of Greece’s National Union of Teachers has been suspended from his job as an Athens high school teacher as part of mass public sector staff cuts.

Themis Kotsifakis, the 55-year-old leader of the OLME union, was named Thursday among 2,122 teachers who will be suspended on reduced pay, to be fired or transferred within the next eight months. Their names were published on a government Internet site.

Greece has promised to suspend 25,000 public sector workers by the end of the year as part of its cost-cutting commitments to bailout lenders.

Public sector unions held a protest in central Athens on Thursday against the latest cuts, along with work stoppages that were joined by staff at state-run hospitals.

Kotsifakis, who has been working as a teacher since 1989, was suspended from his job at a state technical college for teenagers in a suburb of Athens.

“Most of the kids at technical colleges are from poorer families. So the consequence of these actions will be that more children will leave school at a young age,” Kotsifakis told the AP while participating in a peaceful protest rally outside the finance ministry.

“All this talk of assessment, merit, and overstaffing was just a cover,” he said. “Today they have suspended teachers, many of whom are highly qualified, with post-graduate degrees. This is not a reform — it’s the demolition of a system and people’s rights.”

Public sector unions are planning more stoppages and protests Friday, while teaching unions say they are planning to launch indefinite strikes next month when state schools reopen.

Public sector firings were demanded by Greece’s bailout lenders — other eurozone countries and the International Monetary Fund — in exchange for keeping Greece’s troubled economy afloat with rescue loans for the past three years.

But the IMF on Wednesday criticized the staff reform program as having so far failed to remove “redundant and unqualified staff.”

The left-wing opposition Syriza party promised to reverse the dismissal program if it wins the next election in 2016, describing the conservative-led government as “arsonists” who have brought hardship on the Greek people and being too compliant to creditors’ demands.

Speaking in parliament, Administrative Reform Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis defended the firing and transfer program, and submitted a legislative amendment that would give the government greater powers to abolish and merge state-run organizations.

“I keep hearing that this program is moving forward without any preparation … But the truth is that a very significant amount of preparation has been made,” he said. “For the first time, a serious effort is being made to reorganize our public administration.”

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