Cash-strapped Greece dodges 1,900 public sector firings

ATHENS, Feb 18 (Reuters) - Greece said on Monday it would

not fire almost 1,900 civil servants earmarked for possible

dismissal, despite promising foreign lenders it would seek to

cut the public payroll.

Under a deal with creditors, the workers were put last year

into a "labour mobility" scheme, meaning they would receive

about two thirds of their salary and be dismissed within 12

months if no other public sector jobs were found for them.

Late on Monday, the ministry for administrative reform said

it had identified about 2,400 vacancies for them, mainly in

hospitals, courts, prisons and police desk jobs.

"The aim is to man sensitive, frontline positions which

provide services to citizens," the ministry said.

The European Union and the International Monetary Fund have

lent Greece about 240 billion euros ($320 billion).

Under Greece's latest bailout plan agreed in November,

Athens is to put 27,000 public sector workers into the labour

mobility scheme by the end of the year.

The mobility scheme does not set a specific target for

dismissals. But it states that "a large share of those entering

this program (are expected) to ultimately transition to the

private sector, notably via mandatory exits".

Greece must overall cut 150,000 public sector jobs from 2010

to 2015, about a fifth of the total, through hiring curbs,

retirements and dismissals. The EU says it insists on this

because Greece's public wage bill more than doubled from 2001 to

2009, a period in which the euro area's rose by less than half.

But anxious to avoid even harsher austerity measures amid

the country's deepest postwar recession and record unemployment,

Greece's fragile coalition government hopes to fulfill its

target through hiring curbs and retirements.

Speaking late on Monday, the leaders of the two smaller

parties in the ruling coalition ruled out any firings.

"There will be no dismissals," said Fotis Kouvelis, head of

the moderate Party of the Democratic Left after meeting Prime

Minister Antonis Samaras. Kouvelis added, without elaborating,

that workers caught breaking the law could be removed.

Talk of public sector dismissals is "fairytales", said

Socialist Party leader Evangelos Venizelos, also at the meeting.

($1 = 0.7490 euros)

(Reporting by Harry Papachristou and Lefteris Papadimas;

Editing by Jason Webb)

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