Greece: Interview with Hara Petsiou, a cleaner fired from the Ministry of Finance

Issue 
Hara Petsiou, a cleaner

Vivian Messimeris is part of the Green Left Weekly team covering the elections in Greece, which polls give radical left group SYRIZA a strong chance of winning on January 25. She spoke to Hara Petsiou, a cleaner sacked from her job at the finance ministry. The sacked cleaners are fighting for their jobs. You can read more of Green Left's eyewitness coverage of Greece here.

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Can you explain what you are protesting about?

We are cleaners from the Finance Ministry who work throughout Greece, we are not only located in Athens, but in all of Greece. We work in a range of different government buildings and offices. On 17 September (2013) we arrived to work and we were told that we would no longer be employed. Because of the Troika, I’m not sure why, but they had to retrench a certain number of public employees.

Five hundred and ninety five cleaners were fired. We worked for 4 hours a day. The EU introduced these shifts as law. They fired only the women who work 4-hour shifts. There are some women, not many, that work 8-hour shifts, there are 12 of them and they are still employed. They fired us without any notice or warning of any kind. Since then we have been on the streets. We are on the streets everyday outside the Ministry of Finance protesting. Since early May we have been staging this protest and are here all day and night. We take shifts, morning and night. We also have women who come in from the regional areas. They particularly come in to relieve us when we are tired and exhausted. They come from Thessaloniki, Naxos, Volos, they come from all over Greece, from Crete and that’s how we continue to maintain this protest.

What do you think will happen if a SYRIZA government is formed?

We hope that SYRIZA wins. We hope that we will not only get our jobs back, but that those who were fired unfairly, because there was no evaluation to see that there was an excess of cleaners in some areas that could have been easily transferred to places where they didn’t have any cleaners. So we want those people to get their jobs back and to establish better organisation regarding how workers are distributed across the sector. To see where do we have excess staff, who is close to retirement, these things should be analysed.

I hope that something good will happen, not only for us but for our children as well, because I have two daughters. One is 32 years old, thankfully she works, she is in the private sector. My younger daughter is 29 and she is not employed. She has been fired from three different jobs. She is a girl who can’t stand not working, she has always worked since she was 22, in fact she was working before that. She worked as a waitress while she was studying. She was working in jobs that were not related to her studies and most recently she was fired from a private company subcontracted to undertake government services. She was employed on a part time basis. She worked for 11880, they were a telecommunications company and she worked at KPA. The KPA pays unemployment benefits. The company closed down, she then went on unemployment benefits herself and since then she has been unemployed. She has applied for many jobs but nothing.

Do your daughters have hope in a SYRIZA government?

At least from everything we have heard and from what we have seen them do, they support the lower to middle classes. My daughter has hope that she will be able to find a job. We know that things will not all be handed to us. When I was younger we had opportunities, we were able to find second jobs if we wanted them. Now you can’t even get one job. At one stage in my family three out of the four of us were unemployed, my husband, my youngest daughter and me. We survived on the 75% that I received from my salary because wages reduced while we were put on furlough, and with the €260 my husband received in unemployment benefits. That’s a month. I received about €400. We survived on about €760 a month for three people. We had to a significant hike in taxes in ENFIA (property taxes) increases in electricity costs, water costs.

Before we had mobile phones as well as a landline at home. With what we earned we were able to pay our bills and make ends meet. Now it is impossible to make ends meet because if we want to go out eat we have consider our budget and financial situation. We are always on the verge of having our power cut. Our telephone has been cut many times. In order to ensure that I can pay my power bill I only buy essential items at the supermarket. They have cut so much. My child wants to go to see a movie or go out for coffee and it’s not possible for her. I use to love to read, both my daughter and I love to read, now, we can’t buy any literature to read. It is impossible for us.

We know that many people have heard of our plight both throughout Europe and the world and we had a day of solidarity. Many people came out on the streets in support with our struggle. The Ministry of Finance thought that it would be easy to get rid of us, they thought that we would go quietly because we are women. However, women are very strong especially when it comes to their families. My daughters were and are an enormous support for me. It’s not like I was on a high wage before, but I paid my bills I had the luxury of occasionally going to a tavern, now when I think about going out for a coffee with my husband I think of the €7 it will cost me. With that €7 is could buy a kilo of mince to feed my family. We will and we are fighting this injustice everyday and we thank everyone for their support and solidarity.