Greece wants to cut its public sector. This man wants to quit as a teacher. So why did it take two years?

The Greek economy is in crisis. And the case of Alex Christodoulou explains why

The CoLab in Athens is a sign of the times. A shabby grey building a short walk from the city’s becalmed shopping district, it is home to a clutch of fledgeling tech start-ups. The bright young things in jeans and T-shirts are housed in the otherwise drab former offices of a branch of the state bureaucracy that fell victim to Greece’s spending cuts. Underneath it sits a discount supermarket, the front window of which is plastered in adverts for items at €1 or less.

Among the aspiring entrepreneurs hunched over a computer is Alex Christodoulou. The 36-year-old has been trying to make the journey that institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Central Bank (ECB) want Greece to make. Two summers ago he quit a “job for life” in the public sector to launch his own tech-based business, aiming to compete in the global market.

Instead of being feted as a trailblazer, the computer studies teacher found that he was treated as a pariah. First his school in Kalamata, the same seaside city in the Western Peloponnese where the Prime Minister Antonis Samaras hails from, refused to accept his letter of resignation.

“They told me I was too late to resign and I would have to wait for the next year. I couldn’t believe it,” said Mr Christodoulou. Bewildered officials told him that he risked losing his pension with his unorthodox behaviour. Having thought of his big idea and persuaded a friend to join him, he didn’t care about the pension. “They couldn’t imagine that someone would resign because they wanted to do something else with their life.”

In his nine years of teaching he got a first-hand insight into Greece’s woefully dysfunctional education system. In order to top-up their salaries, some teachers reserved their real teaching for after-school lessons at frontistiria – private crammers that most Greek pupils attend. A minority of his colleagues would even fail children in tests to encourage them to sign up for the paid lessons after hours.

Mr Christodoulou was told if he really wanted to quit he would have to stay away from work for 21 consecutive school days. He would then be fired. After two months had passed without showing his face there was no response. When he contacted the school to ask when he would be fired, he was told he would have to face a disciplinary board and a possible lawsuit. The stand-off continued for seven months before he finally got a letter telling him that his resignation was accepted.

It was not just the school that could not understand his burst of entrepreneurialism. His move confounded friends and family who thought he was wrong to leave his safe position. Despite earning a modest €1,300 (£1,100) a month, his job with only 20 hours of teaching a week and three months vacation a year “was considered one of the best you could get”, he said. It was the “Greek dream” of an easy-going job followed by early retirement.

Two years on and the reluctant public servant’s ordeal is not over. Last week, he got a call from the Greek education ministry telling him he would receive written notification that his resignation had been rescinded, his salary would recommence and that he would then face disciplinary action and expulsion. In other words they wanted to rehire him so that they could fire him and include him in the number of public servants being laid off to appease Greece’s international creditors.

Mr Christodoulou, who has launched a smartphone application called “Locish” which offers travellers advice from local experts, is angry at his retrospective lay-off. “I don’t want to be counted as a fired person. I shouldn’t be punished because I resigned,” he said. “This is crazy even for Greece.”

Earlier this week, the Greek Parliament passed its latest package of austerity measures, the centrepiece of which was a commitment to take 15,500 workers off the public payroll. The lay-offs will break a century-old tradition of permanent positions in the civil service. It was forced upon a largely unwilling Parliament by the ECB, IMF and European Commission – known collectively as the troika – in return for the latest loans of €8.8bn.

The troika’s prescription of tax increases, privatisations and spending cuts has not tackled Greece’s debt crisis. Unemployment is the highest in Europe, and youth joblessness stands at more than 60 per cent.

What cases like Mr Christodoulou’s illustrate are how little the trumpeted reforms have eaten into Greece’s client state. For decades civil service jobs have been handed out in return for votes. It was politically cheaper to hike taxes than reform Greece’s expensive and grossly inefficient bureaucracy.

And it is not just a numbers game. Contrary to popular perception, the percentage of the working population employed by the state in Greece is lower than the eurozone average. But public sector workers outnumber their private counterparts to a greater extent than any other EU country. This trend has emerged during the crisis. In 2008 a little over four out of every 10 Greek taxpayers was employed by the state. Now it is six out of 10.

What Greece really needs is to manage its public sector “on a qualitative, not a quantitative basis”, said Theodore Pelagidis, an economics professor at the University of Piraeus who compiled the public-private research.

Aristos Doxiadis, a partner at OpenFund, the venture capital firm who invested in Locish, explains that the private sector has been squeezed to protect “public sector profligacy”, which has contributed to the downward spiral. OpenFund, which has been supported by the European Investment Fund, has helped to stimulate a lively startup scene in Athens where hundreds of would-be entrepreneurs now turn out at almost daily “new economy” events.

Measured in numbers, the new ventures are not going to turn things around, Mr Doxiadis admits, “but the example they give can have a huge impact”.

The Christodoulou family have belatedly come around to the idea of their son’s startup venture since it received seed funding and he and his partner Gregory Zontanos – who also quit his job in the civil service – were interviewed by local media outlets.

The Locish founder admits the inspiration for his travel app, which launches in New York this month, came from a Greek entrepreneur who started a successful website in London several years ago. “We used to think that the guys in Silicon Valley are different to us, then we saw him on a video and thought ‘he’s like us’, we can get funded too.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Developer

£16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a world leader ...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

£13000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to be part of a ...

Recruitment Genius: 1st Line Technical Support Engineer

£19000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT and Telecoms company ar...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Manager - Visitor Fundraising

£23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Visitor Fundraising Team is responsi...

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future