By the end of the month, more than 3,000 personnel who were hired during in the epidemic to keep Greek regional and municipal agencies afloat will be laid off.
As COVID-19 controls are lifted throughout the country, Athens declared that the services of workers verifying QR codes, cleaning public parks and buildings, and cleaning roads will no longer be required.
For almost two years, David Armaos has worked as a street sweeper for the municipality of Piraeus. He now needs to find a new source of income, but he isn’t willing to give up without a fight.
He tells CGTN, “I’ll absolutely take legal action.” “In the meantime, despite getting another job, I’m also looking for a replacement for the one I’ll lose – since feeding a family with only one work is impossible.” Life has gotten increasingly costly, especially in recent years.
“My future is unknown because we don’t understand if we’ll get a new contract.” Even if there is, imagine them telling us our contracts would be extended for yet another 5 months – that would be another five months of worry.”
Armaos isn’t the only one. Workers in towns and regions around the country, from street sweepers to those operating in COVID-19 testing facilities and verifying QR codes, will be put off the end of May after 2 years on the front lines of the pandemic.
The interior ministry declined the request of staff employed during the pandemic to change their temporary contracts to permanent contracts, causing thousands of contractors to seek legal action and demonstrate on the streets.
Workers argue that their work addresses long-term challenges as well as immediate requirements, and they demand the ability to work with full employee rights and without the fear of being laid off.
Many people understand why they were employed because of the outbreak, but they don’t understand why they were fired when they were serving long-term needs.
“That’s the natural thing to say,” Armaos admits, “‘I signed the contract, it expired, and now I’m leaving.'” “However, most regions and municipalities presently have notified us that we cover established and persistent needs, with many mayors stepping out in public and claiming that these people are very necessary for our town to run efficiently and without problems.”
“So I’m not sure why you’re laying us off and hiring others who you’ll have to train because we already know what we’re doing.”
Despite the loosening of COVID-19 measures in Greece, the pandemic is far from ending, with more than 3,000 new cases reported every day. This may be interpreted as strengthening the workers’ case.
However, as experts explain, converting temporary contracts to permanent contracts is not fair nor legal, and there is no simple solution.
“We really need to assess and we need regular personnel, discover the individuals with the proper abilities, and then hire them,” says employment lawyer Ioannis Karouzos.
“We must also recognize that we cannot just hire temporary staff for full-time positions. There are laws and programs in place. Applying, going through the procedure, and finding the appropriate people all take time. It is unjust to people who are waiting for a long time. The issue in Greece is that many do not want to give up their temporary government jobs.”
After a decade of debt crisis, epidemic, and inflation, Greece’s unemployment rate skyrocketed, thus these short term contracts for frontline employees provided a financial respite.
However, the news that COVID-19 contracts may not be renewed has thousands of people, including David Armaos, worried about their financial security.