L. J. MEIJER, PRODUCER: L. J. Meijer reporting.
If Greece is the spearhead in the battle against austerity, then these cleaning ladies are the tip of the spear.
They used to clean the Greek Ministry of Finance.
However, the government laid them off as part of its austerity measures and hired private contractors instead. Since then, these ladies have been leading the fight against the Greek government’s austerity policies.
During my recent trip to Greece, I observed these brave women protesting in front of the Ministry of Finance and standing up to riot police on a daily basis.
INTERVIEWER: How did this get started?
DESPINA KSTOPOULA, LAID-OFF WORKER (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): On September 18, 2013, we found out that we were being let go from our jobs. They were firing us. They put us “on call” for eight months until May 18. And from May 18 onward, we were permanently laid off.
SOFIA TSAGAROPOULA, LAID-OFF WORKER: Eighteen September, they announced from the ministry of economics that we lose our jobs. And they put us for eight months: wait and we’ll see if you go; wait, wait for eight months. These eight months started at 18 May, and from this day, we are without job.
INTERVIEWER: What were you being paid?
TSAGAROPOULA: The salary before I’m fired was 600 euro for the month.
INTERVIEWER: Are private cleaners now doing the work?
KSTOPOULA: Yes, yes indeed. We were being paid this very low salary, while at the same time our job was being done by cleaning crews, and those people were working for 2.5 to 3 euros an hour and in most cases not getting any pension or benefits. And mostly it was undeclared, black (under the table) work. Also, the quality of the cleaning supplies was not as it should be, and therefore cleanliness was deficient.
TSAGAROPOULA: These workers, the private, were very, very, very small salary and without social security. You understand? And their services were not good. This is more expensive than us.
MEIJER: Though the police left the protesters alone on the days that we visited, these women have suffered injuries at their hands.
TSAGAROPOULA: We have this gift from the police one week ago. We came here and closed the door of the minister with other workers, many people. We were here with chairs and sitting. And suddenly the police came and–. [mimes jostling]
INTERVIEWER: And they broke her leg with a baton?
TSAGAROPOULA: Kicking, kicking the legs.
MEIJER: Tell us what happened in the court case.
KSTOPOULA: When they put us “on call”, effectively firing us, we went to the courts, the justice system. After approximately 6 months, we had the first decision from the District Court of Athens. The decision was in our favor and required the Ministry of Finance to let us return to our jobs immediately.
When we were [another language] when we were fired, we hired a lawyer, and finally we had court [another language]
KSTOPOULA: [another language]
TSAGAROPOULA: –four weeks ago, about four weeks ago. And the court decide, the judge said said that we must go back to our works, that the minister of economics is illegal, all this thing is illegal. And he ordered to go back to our works. But the minister of economics had, you know, to go higher court, and that’s–does not accept us. And then we had a second [another language].
KSTOPOULA: So the first decision was in our favor, and the Ministry of Finance decided to bypass the court of appeal, which is the second-tier court, to go directly to the supreme court, where a preliminary hearing was also in our favor.
TSAGAROPOULA: The second court that was a level higher, the second degree–I don’t know exactly to say. You understand, I hope. For the second time, the court said, no, you’re wrong. You must take the women back for the second time. And now we wait this decision [another language]
KSTOPOULA: So, for a second time the supreme court judged in our favor. Unfortunately, the government refuses to comply with the court decision.
The supreme court yesterday heard the application for a delay. We have yet another court case on September 23, 2014, which is the appeal to overturn the decision of the lower court.
TSAGAROPOULA: We have the final, final court at the high, high–same as the second, the final decision, you go out and you stay. This court that we wait for tomorrow, the final decision, tomorrow, is if we–until the final court at September makes that decision, if we go back to our works, according the first, first and they’re paying during this time, or until the supreme court goes, we go out, no pay, and wait for the decision.
INTERVIEWER: So tomorrow.
MEIJER: This is this.
MEIJER: Unfortunately, the decision the following day went against the cleaning ladies. They will not get their jobs back until the court makes its final decision this coming September.
There were also some skirmishes with police after we left, and one of the ladies that we interviewed was sent to hospital.
We asked the Greek government for an interview on the subject of these cleaning ladies, but a spokesman from the Greek embassy in Ottawa, Canada, told us that the government couldn’t comment while the matter was before the courts.
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