A man claimed on TV, he saw rats ‘big like cats’ roaming at night through the mountains of garbage that lay uncollected since one week. “It’s stinking! Awful! Microbes!” another man shouted right in the camera. An elderly woman urged “they should take the garbage in their homes”. It is not clear whether she means the government, the strikers or those citizens who keep bringing their rubbish to the streets despite authorities warning them no to do so.
Some blamed the government, some the municipalities and some the striking workers. Typical Greek: there is absence of unity about who is to blame for the intolerable situation that threatens humans and animals alike. “I was young and grew old and the garbage problem has not been solved yet,” an aunt told me. “Every couple of years, a strike and there the mountains of garbage pile up outside our doors.”
What is perfectly clear is that Greeks are fed up with the stinking piles of plastic bags outside their homes.
More than 20,000 tonnes of garbage in Athens and more than 1,500 tonnes in Thessaloniki have been laying on streets and pavements under summer temperatures that hit 38°-39° Celsius over the weekend.
At the peak of the heat at 3:00 p.m. Sunday, when the thermometer showed 37.5 C, the sweet-loathing smell of rotten vegetables reached our apartment in the upper floors of a multi-storey building in a suburb of south Athens. We could not do anything else except close all doors and windows and turn the A/C on.
Later in the evening we met with friends at a neighborhood bar to celebrate a friend’s birthday. It is clear. No Greek stays indoor in summer. And there we sat with our drinks, an ice-cream birthday cake and the odor of the smell coming from time to time from the rubbish mountains around the corner. I had the feeling we had to break the celebration premature due to the stinking garbage.
Of course, the rubbish was not just around the corner but also in the focus of our chat. Some said they keep garbage in their balconies and others that they just bring it down. “But nicely packed!” One dared saying that she had pity with the municipality workers on contracts. In zero time the debate hell broke out. Fierce arguments flew through the air “They get contract extensions because they are affiliated with political parties and the municipalities” said one, “they’re paid good money and they don’t do their job properly” said another. “All they care about is money from the state,” a third added. Two complained that there is absolute no cleaning service on their streets. For the failing services, one blamed the “huge areas municipality cleaners are assigned with.” And another argued “So what? In private sector an employee does everything he is assigned with. Especially nowadays, in crisis and high unemployment.”
An older friend pointed out “It’s time for the Greek mentality to change, no more tolerance to the misconditions in the public sector.” This sparked another debate about the privileges of the public sector and why the striking municipality workers demand permanent work contracts. “In private sector, you get a bad-paid job, and you are fired with compensation,” a friend said, another added “if you get one job at all,” a third summed up “Municipality workers should be glad they get an 8-month contract. Nowadays, nowadays where the labor has collapsed. They should let the position for other people to enjoy a salary for some months too.”
We finished out drinks, paid the bill, kissed each other Good night and went home, to the cozy garbage bags in our neighborhoods, to our very own garbage, to the bad odor and rotten household waste we know…
When I left home on Monday morning, a few new huge trash bags were added around the garbage bin in front of our home.
Later on the day, the prosecutor of Athens ordered investigation about the accumulating stinking garbage in the streets of the Greek capital. The prosecutor seeks into responsibilities for the environment pollution and the risks for public health. Offenses could be felony charges.
Talks between the government and municipality workers unions ended in deadlock on Monday. The government wants to legislate in order to accelerate procedures for hiring of 2,500 people for the cleaning services of municipalities. Temporary workers will be able to apply for these jobs. Should the age limit of 45 be included in the legislation, many of the striking workers will be left without work.
Municipality Workers Union POE-OTA cries the government solution leaves 10,000 people without job.
The union will continue their mobilizations for the current week, a 24-hour strike is planned for Thursday. Then they will reconsider the situation and decide accordingly.
In some areas, municipalities hired private companies to relieve the citizens from the mountains of garbage. Workers Union warn “Privatizations of garbage collection ahead!”
PS Garbage is a big and dirty business. Everywhere in the world.