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Government forced to rethink plans for civil service reform

Discussion of a package of six government bills, designed to overhaul appraisal, promotion and transfers in the public sector, went into start-stop mode on Monday with the administration announcing it was withdrawing the regulations it submitted to parliament regarding a new system assessing the performance of public-sector employees.

The decision was taken after an advisory opinion from the attorney-general, who found that aspects of the regulations were problematic and unconstitutional in that they could lead to discriminatory practices.

As such, Undersecretary to the President and Reform Commissioner Constantinos Petrides informed MPs of the House finance committee that the government would go back to the drawing board and draft new regulations concerning the assessment of public-sector workers who are up for promotion.

In his opinion, the attorney-general advised that “although it is a fact that the almost universal evaluation of public servants as excellent may not correspond to reality and therefore needs to be corrected, this correction can come about by changing the mentality of supervisors so that henceforth they would reserve the excellent assessment only to those who deserve it.”

Discussion at the House committee next shifted to a bill aiming to link public-sector salary rises to GDP, in a bid to rein in the state payroll.

Its purpose, Petrides said, is to ensure that the payroll remains within a “reasonable budgetary framework” preventing its bloating through unconstrained or en masse hiring.

 Pay rises are to be tied to the increase in nominal GDP. It follows that no salary increases would be granted at times of zero economic growth, and any such increases would be given following collective bargaining and provided the state can afford it.

Regarding the index-linked CoLA, the bailout agreement between the government and its international lenders stipulates that it will be granted only during economic growth – registered during the second and third quarters of the preceding year – and provided there is inflation.

At the same time the commissioner assured MPs that it is not the government’s current policy to bring about a drastic reduction of the payroll either through salary cutbacks or a protracted freeze on hikes.

Civil servants’ salaries were cut in mid-2013 in the face of fiscal implosion. The cuts were tiered, ranging from 10 per cent to 17 per cent, and were imposed on a temporary basis until 2016.

Opposition MPs criticised both this bill and another introducing interchangeability in the public sector, whose broad strokes were also discussed on Monday.

On the interchangeability bill, EDEK MP Marinos Sizopoulos said it contained many gaps and that as it currently stands it could be used by the government of the day as another tool for cronyism.

MPs have yet to begin an article-by-article review of the two bills. Given also that the government has shelved the regulations relating to a new system evaluating public-sector workers, meaning that MPs cannot not have a holistic picture of the public service reform package, it is now doubtful whether parliament can vote on the package before the summer recess, in late July.

 

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