Greece to Eliminate 15000 Government Jobs

Athens is racing to push through economic changes that will persuade its lenders to release €130 billion, or $170.5 billion, in new bailout funds to avoid defaulting on its bond payments in March.

The talks, which focus on bringing Greece’s debt burden down to a manageable level, are taking place against a backdrop of a deteriorating Greek economy that is causing the country’s debt burden to rise as austerity measures cut into the potential for economic growth.

Greece’s debt rose to 159.1 percent of gross domestic product in the third quarter of 2011 from 138.8 percent a year earlier, according to data released Monday by Eurostat, the European Union statistical agency.

Public-sector layoffs have long been a taboo subject in Greece, since the Constitution protects state workers from being fired. So any cuts need to happen through attrition or eliminating positions.

The Greek administrative reform minister, Dimitris Reppas, announced the job cuts but did not provide details on how they would be carried out.

Anticipating a new barrage of austerity measures, including wage cuts in the private sector, the country’s two main labor unions called a 24-hour general strike for Tuesday. The strike is expected to disrupt transport and other public services. Three separate protest rallies have been planned for central Athens alone.

Some economists argue that the dislocation in Greece shows that austerity is precisely the wrong medicine for the struggling economy. Shrinking the G.D.P. side of the equation makes it harder to bring down Greece’s debt ratio to a more sustainable level, as the country has pledged to do, and adds pressure for additional taxes and spending cuts.

Two years of spending cutbacks have weighed on employment, with the jobless rate at 19 percent, and have lowered government tax revenue. The economy is expected to contract 6 percent in 2011, the International Monetary Fund has estimated.

The European Union has forecast Greece’s debt ratio for 2011 at 162.8 percent of G.D.P. — far above the 60 percent that euro zone members are supposed to aim for. Negotiators are hoping to put the Greek economy on a footing that would bring its debt to 120 percent of G.D.P. by 2020, but even that figure is now in doubt.

Eurostat, which had not issued such quarterly debt figures before, said the report Monday was meant to complement annual data it already published. The realization in late 2009 that Greece had been hiding the true state of its public finances set the European sovereign debt crisis in motion and put the future of the euro currency itself in jeopardy.

Eurostat also said the debt ratios of the 17 euro zone countries as a whole rose to 87.4 percent of G.D.P. from 83.2 percent a year earlier.

For all of the 27 European Union nations, the debt ratio rose to 82.2 percent from 78.5 percent.

Those averages remain below the roughly 100 percent for the United States and 200 percent for Japan.

Among the most indebted euro members, Italy’s debt ratio rose 0.5 point to 119.6 percent in the third quarter from a year earlier, though it did show progress in shaving 1.6 points from the second quarter of 2011.

Portugal’s debt ratio rose 18.9 points from a year earlier, to 110.1 percent, while Ireland’s rose more than 16 points, to 104.9 percent.

Athens is also negotiating with private-sector creditors over a restructuring of Greece’s bonds, one of the prerequisites for the release of further bailout funds.

As negotiations between the Greek government and its lenders dragged on Monday, political maneuvering and gamesmanship were much in evidence in Athens.

The leader of the right-leaning Popular Orthodox Rally, Giorgos Karatzaferis, called for the establishment of a technocratic government similar to the one that Italy has assembled under Prime Minister Mario Monti.

Mr. Karatzaferis added that he would not continue discussing the terms of the bailout for Greece until ministers from the Socialist party, or Pasok, “leave the government.”

Pasok is the largest party in the governing coalition, which also includes the center-right New Democracy party and the Popular Orthodox Rally.

The leader of the New Democracy party, Antonis Samaras, said he would continue to oppose any economic measures that might deepen Greece’s recession.

David Jolly reported from Paris.


Travel dilemmas: Greece’s reality

Q: What is the anticipated effect of the financial problems in Greece on tourists this summer?

-M. Lowry, Los Angeles

A: That’s not an easy question to answer, because negotiations over Greece’s financial fate continued last week, and the outcome will determine how uncomfortable – or not – life there will be.

What has happened to Greece is a bit like what happens to many of us: It borrowed too much money. But here’s the infuriating part: When a new government took power in late 2009, it was discovered that there had been some creative accounting, which made the financial situation look much better than it actually was. Whether you’re doing this with a country or with your spouse, it’s a bad idea. Although a little spousal deception generally won’t destroy your union, when a country like Greece does it, it does jeopardize a different kind of union – the European Union, of which there are 27 members and of which Greece has been a part since 1981.

Greece has played a big role in destabilizing the union. It has tried to cut its debt by imposing austerity measures, which have led to public outrage, violent rioting and even deaths.

The situation there is unhappy. But Greece needs tourist dollars now more than ever to find its way out from under lest it default on its loans. Tourism is one of its leading industries, and that means you are apt to find bargains.

“Greece is a perfect example of how, until they can show the world complete stability and control, it’s going to have to generate some substantial value as a way to reel in … vacation dollars,” said Gabe Saglie, senior editor with TravelZoo, a deals site. TravelZoo recently offered an eight-night vacation package in Greece with air from New York for $1,499 a person, he said. It included two nights in Athens, three in Mykonos and three nights in Santorini, plus ferry service and breakfast. (The deal was posted Jan. 25 and may no longer be available.)

“Is this a package that we’d see if the current situation was much different and much better? Probably not,” he said.

Will you get caught up in the insanity of a riot or a strike? It’s possible, said Nicholas Hadgis, dean of the School of Hospitality Management at Widener University in Chester, Pa. “Be prepared to be patient when there are random strikes,” he said. “Greece for years – even before the crisis – had random strikes.” Being away from Athens also may be a good idea if you’re looking to bask in the sun without the overlay of tension.

Greece will need to outsmart its competition, Hadgis said, especially to attract Europeans “who just want to get away from the snow and the cold.” Greece has more than 2,000 islands and gorgeous beaches, but it also has competition from the rest of the Mediterranean – Spain also is in a terrible financial situation – for the euros of those who want to shake off the chill, so it might have further incentive to discount.

Those nice, warm beaches need your cold, hard cash. So read the news, and keep your eyes peeled for bargains. In 2012, Greece very well could be the word.