FRANKFURT, Germany – Europe's debt crisis is close to claiming a new set of casualties — the European Central Bank's overstretched staff.
The central banking authority for the 17 countries that use the euro says it is recruiting more staff to help keep its workers from burning out under the added tasks thrown up by the bloc's economic problems.
The move follows a staff survey by the union representing many ECB employees that showed bank workers were putting in constant overtime.
The bank says it will be adding 40 new positions to help out on complex tasks such as checking whether countries obey the terms of their bailouts. Greece, Portugal, Ireland have already been given loans to manage their debts and in June Cyprus also asked for help. The ECB will also be involved in monitoring the terms of a loan to bail out Spain's banking system, under the bailout agreement.
Bank President Mario Draghi acknowledged the higher workload and pressure on its 1,600 fulltime staff last month, saying it was "no surprise that they see themselves as overworked, and our assessment is exactly the same."
Since the debt crisis erupted in October, 2009, the ECB has taken on new and unfamiliar tasks on top of its main job of setting the region's monetary policy and interest rates. In particular, the bank now has the job of monitoring whether countries are sticking to the terms of their bailout loans and are reforming their economies. The terms are designed prevent politicians from relaxing their efforts once bailout loan eases the financial pressure. It's highly technical work that means travel to the affected countries with counterparts from the International Monetary Fund and the European Commission to monitor the deals.
And there's more responsibility on the horizon. One of the plans drawn up by Europe's leaders to tackle the debt crisis and restore confidence in the region's financial system was to set up a centralized banking supervisor — and it's expected that task will fall to the ECB.
A survey for the IPSO union representing many ECB employees showed that more than 75 percent worked regular overtime and that most of them say a higher workload appears permanent. It said that long-term absences due to country missions left other staffers having to perform the tasks of absent colleagues in addition to their own workload.
IPSO President Marius Mager said that "the crisis mode has turned into the permanent one, that's the problem."
The IPSO survey and accompanying letter asserted that the 17 national central banks, which make up the majority on the ECB's 23-member governing council, were determined to keep ECB staff limited. The national central banks handle many of the eurozone's monetary tasks with their own staff, such as dealing with banknotes and market operations.