Police clashed in Athens Friday with protesting firefighters demanding job contracts in the wake of massive wildfires. One firefighter was hurt by a stun grenade and five others were detained after police fired teargas and water cannon to disperse the demonstrators.
The protesters, wearing their firefighting uniforms, blocked traffic outside the newly-created Climate Crisis and Civil Protection Ministry north of the capital.
Massive fires this summer burned more than 1,000 square kilometres of forest on the island of Evia and in southern Greece, as heatwaves scorched southeast Europe. Hundreds of firefighters from European Union nations and nearby countries came to Greece to support the effort.
In the wake of the fires, the government created the new climate crisis ministry, headed by the Cypriot-born former European Union Commissioner Christos Stylianides.
On Friday, protest organisers said some 2,000 firefighters have short-term contracts, renewed every five years or less.
“People talk about climate change and we know from science that it’s happening. That means we need better resources to deal with its effects,” Alexandros Farandakis, head of the contract workers’ firefighting association, told the AP.
Greece has more than 15,000 firefighters during the summer months, about 5,000 of them on short-term contracts or hired seasonally.
“Contract firefighters put their heart and soul into the effort to battle the fires over the summer,” Farandakis said. “They have repeatedly been promised proper jobs. But they have been deceived. I don’t know what kind of disaster has to happen — more fires? more floods? — for the message to get through.”
The government says it is reviewing the country’s firefighting capability, including equipment and staffing levels. It spent €500 million on a relief effort for people who lost their homes and businesses in the fires this summer, an amount roughly equivalent to the annual firefighting budget.
Speaking at the U.N. climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland this week, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said the intensity of the fires was a consequence of climate change.
“We are already getting a glimpse of the dramatic effects of global warming. This summer, having experienced a record-breaking streak of days with temperatures over 40 degrees (Celsius, 104 Fahrenheit), we had to deal with forest fires of unprecedented intensity,” Mitsotakis said.
“That’s why … we created a climate crisis ministry, and I emphasize the term ‘crisis’.”