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Our View: Government municipal reform has turned into a farce

Interior Minister Nicos Nouris

We should not be surprised that the government has taken a decision to ensure the reform of local authorities will not achieve some of its main objectives – cutting costs and making the municipalities more efficient. This was evident from the deal reached at a meeting of interior minister, Nicos Nouris, the Union of Municipalities and the two big trade unions, Sek and Peo on Tuesday.

The deal stipulated that no municipal worker would be sacked as a result of the merging of the municipalities and all employees’ work-related and pension benefits were fully guaranteed. Another provision of the deal was that should there be a need to transfer or cut staff in certain services any decisions would be subject to talks between the interior ministry and unions. A fourth provision envisages the ministry and unions working together on consolidating the disparate collective agreements.

In short, the reform will degenerate into farce. Although the number of municipalities will be reduced from 30 to 17, they will still employ the same number of staff, while labour costs will increase. The provision for consolidating the disparate collective agreements will lead to pay increases for municipal employees, because there is no way the unions would agree for the consolidation of collective agreements to be based on the lower wages.

We will have 17 municipalities, but they would be employing the number of workers needed for 30 municipalities. A very large part of the municipalities’ budgets went on wages and pensions and this will continue to be the case after the implementation of the reform, which was forced on the government as a cost-cutting measure by the troika during the assistance programme. And with excessive numbers of employees, municipalities will become more inefficient and bureaucratic than they are at present.

These are not the only objectives of the reform that will not be met. The government repeatedly claimed that the reform would give more autonomy to the new municipalities, but they will still not be allowed to negotiate pay, staff transfers or redundancies with the unions because this responsibility has been taken over by the interior ministry! This suits the unions because it will be much easier for them to impose their diktats on the government than on each municipality separately. The autonomy of a municipality will not include negotiating with unions because this will be the responsibility of central government.

All the rigidities of the old system – overstaffing, high wage bills, union power and central government control – will remain in place. We will have reform only in name.

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