Often, nations resort to “Us” vs. “Them” mentalities. This blame-game can result in one state condemning the practices of another. In light of the recent European debt crisis, one should examine one of the most criticized aspects of Greek governance- the civil service. Greece’s fellow EU members have deemed the country’s civil service inefficient and corrupt, and believe that government resources could be better spent elsewhere. These accusations are being broadcasted in the media, at summits, and in the austerity recommendations.
There are numerous similarities also found in the British civil service and the Canadian public sector, with the main difference being their economies. Greece is currently volatile and, hence, more sensitive to inefficiencies in the public sector management. Canada and the UK are stronger economies, and can more easily absorb international economic and fiscal shocks and overstaffed public sectors.
The Greek public sector was criticized for being over-staffed, over-funded, inefficient, unresponsive, and receiving disproportionately high benefits. Greece has a whopping 700,000 civil employees for a population of 11 million people. Civil servants were protected constitutionally from being dismissed, to ensure that they remained politically independent. This assurance made the service very inefficient. Even people with felonies were not always dismissed by the disciplinary councils.
If Greece carries out the civil service reforms it promised to the EU, it will receive a $11.4 billion bailout package. Greece has responded with an Emergency bill that enables the government to hire based on merit and to fire workers, if necessary, without being unconstitutional. Greek parliament voted to cut 15,500 civil service jobs by the end of 2014. This will be the first time civil servants are laid off in over 100 years. These cuts, combined with other reforms, have exacerbated Greece’s recession and high unemployment rates.
The UK enjoys a better economic system, substantial political leverage and a civil service renowned for its expertise. Of the 30 million people in the UK workforce, approximately 380,000 people in the public sector. However, this number is expected to drop in the near future as a result of the Government’s effort to reduce public spending.
As in Greece, the British Civil Service is condemned for having more benefits than the average citizen, being incompetent, overstaffed, and a glorified bureaucracy. In response, the British Civil Service is working to dispel negative stereotypes and to better the reputation of civil service workers.
Reform in the UK is not forced by an outside actor, as in Greece. Structural and organizational restructuring is a direct response to domestic criticism.
Canada eliminated 17,000 jobs in the public service in 2013. The Canadian public sector is accused to provide not enough service, too many jobs, and too many benefits. Deja vu, anyone? 3.2 million of the 16.9 million-people Canadian workforce is employed in the public sector. The Canada Revenue Agency has been particularly criticized for having an unnecessarily high number of employees. Canada is undergoing its own set of austerity measures and cutbacks to reduce government spending.
Greece, the United Kingdom, and Canada are all undergoing major civil service job cuts. The public sector in Greece may be in the spotlight at present, but the international community should focus less on pointing fingers. There are intrinsic differences in the Greek civil service that resulted from a unique economic and political history and culture, but the current policies and outlook are not as different as the media has portrayed it since the beginning of the Greek debt crisis. The UK and Canada also have significant cuts underway.