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Greece

Greece pushes for more health, education staff to cushion blow of cuts

Greek PM Alexis Tsipras

Greece said on Thursday it wanted to persuade its creditors to let it hire more health staff and teachers in the early stages of its overhaul of its ailing public sector, part of a wider attempt to cushion the blow of harsh austerity cuts.

Greece has promised to public sector cut spending and increase efficiency under the terms of its international bailout, and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said he was committed to the plan.

But the government, which has a thin parliamentary majority, has also promised to help the most vulnerable by improving health and education – services that have taken a particularly hard hit during the debt crisis.

“Our aim is to convince (the lenders), and our arguments are very strong and serious, to bring forward some hirings initially scheduled for the next five years,” Tsipras said during a speech at the National Centre of Public Administration.

The country’s European Union and International Monetary Fund creditors are due to begin their first review of the new bailout next week.

Tsipras controls 153 lawmakers and is faced with new pressure from his coalition’s main political rival after the election of reformist Kyriakos Mitsotakis to lead the conservatives, in the run up to a parliamentary vote on a tough pension reform also demanded by the lenders.

He said he hoped for wider political support for the state reform bill, which will be submitted to parliament in the coming days and was discussed in a three-hour cabinet meeting on Wednesday.

The bill, which Tsipras called a ‘tool’ for fighting corruption, will introduce a new evaluation system of public sector workers’ performance.

“We are not going to operate like the others, we will not be appointing managers without meritocracy,” Tsipras said.

His Syriza party first came to power last year tapping into public anger against a political elite which most Greeks accuse of mismanaging state finances and is still popular despite caving into lenders’ demands.

“We are determined to proceed and end once and for all corruption and a clientilistic state, Tsipras said. “We are determined to create the terms and the conditions for a new era.” Critics have accused Syriza of building up its own large state apparatus, something it denies.

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