Public Sector Strikes Rock Greece

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A series of strikes by government employees have brought school and hospital systems in Greece to a crippling halt, Reuters reports.

So far this week, teachers and doctors have gone on strike to protest austerity measures that would cause many government-employed workers to lose their jobs. The firings are part of a series of reforms that Greece had to promise to undertake to accept bailout money from organizations such as the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank. The strike comes just days before representatives from those groups are due to check with officials in Athens to monitor Greece’s progress toward its goals.

The objective for Greece is to trim the public sector by some 15,000 positions by the end of 2014, something the workers themselves are not happy about. Already, many employees have been relocated or forced to alter their positions as part of the shake-up, though what amounts to layoffs have been saved as a last resort. Now, though, it looks as if there will be no other way for Greece to comply with the standards that were laid out as part of the bailout.

The job losses will only aggravate what has been a persistent problem for Greece during its economic recession: unemployment. With levels well above 25 percent for an extended period of time, the workforce has shrunk dramatically during the past several years. Levels of youth unemployment are also notably high, meaning that many of the country’s young people have been unable to find work. Even worse, they will be left without an advanced education or work experience to qualify them for well-paying jobs even if those jobs return to the country.

Another bad sign is in the country’s birthrate, which, according to The Guardian, has dropped nearly 15 percent over the course of the past four years. This dramatic decline has been attributed to the bad economic conditions; reports abound of mothers who flee from hospitals after giving birth because they are unable to pay the doctors bills.

Antonis Samaris, the prime minister of Greece, was surprisingly optimistic in the wake of the strike. He said he believes an economic recovery could be complete as early as 2019, six years from now, the BBC reports. He dismissed critics who have put a timeline as long as two generations for Greece’s economy to return to pre-recession levels. A bright spot in the data came from tourism numbers, which showed a marked increase this July from last July, per a Reuters report. This is particularly important for the Greek economy because it represents a net inflow of cash to the country.

Greek teachers and doctors, who are currently on strike, would not be so optimistic about the future of their country. Many in Greece are hostile to international groups, who they see as having imposed harsh rules on their homeland for no good reason. Still, with Greece already slated to need another 10 billion euros or 11 billion euros in bailout money by the end of 2014, they are not in a position to refuse demands.

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