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Economy & Business

Civil Servants In Greece 'Sit-In' To Fight For Their Jobs

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

In Greece, unemployment is around 27 percent. Until recently, government jobs have been protected. Now, the country must cut the public sector in order to keep receiving international bailout loans. The parliament is set to vote on the cuts today. NPR's Joanna Kakissis reports from Athens that civil servants are staging a sit-in to fight for their jobs.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: The protest felt like a mini Woodstock, not the tense demonstrations at Syntagma, the square outside parliament, has become known for. A band played as hundreds of civil servants pitched their camps. One was school guard Vaso Kanapi(ph).

VASO KANAPI: (Greek spoken)

KAKISSIS: We're not numbers that they can subtract just like that, she says. That's why we came here. The European Union and the International Monetary Fund, which are lending Greece billions in bailout loans, want the country to cut a total of 150,000 public sector jobs, nearly 20 percent of the workforce. They say politicians gave many of these jobs to their own supporters regardless of qualifications. That's one reason why the civil service is so inefficient, says Kyriakos Mitsotakis. He's the Greek government minister in charge of the downsizing.

KYRIAKOS MITSOTAKIS: Had we addressed the structural problems of the public sector earlier, Greece would not have gone through such a deep recession.

KAKISSIS: Mitsotakis says most of the job cuts have already come through attrition, but there must be some layoffs.

MITSOTAKIS: There's always concern for any person who is going to lose her job so this whole process needs to be done in a just and fair manner and through a process of proper assessment, and this is exactly what we are trying to do.

KAKISSIS: He says those civil servants who got their jobs through merit will likely keep them, and the protesters know that the general public may have little sympathy for their cause after so many private sector jobs have been lost. For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis in Athens. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.