Greece's Supreme Court on Thursday ruled in favour of cleaners hired by the state's betting agency OPAP with temporary contracts between 1991 and 1998, finding that they served standing needs and should have been given permanent jobs.

The decision, which will serve as a precedent for similar cases now pending before the courts, was greeted jubilantly by thousands of broader public-sector contract workers that had gathered outside the courthouse on Alexandras Avenue.

Champagne bottles were cracked opened and contract workers poured out into the street blocking traffic when the court's decision was announced. They then carried out a march, preceded by a motorcade, from the Supreme Court to Athens City Hall in Kotzia Square.

The civil servants' union ADEDY had declared a 24-hour strike on Thursday for all public-sector workers on temporary contracts, when the case would go before the court.

A 24-hour strike had also been declared by the local authority workers' union POE-OTA for all contract workers in municipalities and municipal enterprises, as well as a four-hour nationwide strike from 7:30 until 11:30 a.m. for other staff.

The Supreme Court plenum's decision concerned workers hired with temporary contracts before 2001, finding that they can be given permanent positions under labour law, and will serve as a pilot decision for cases involving the civil service and broader public sector.

The court ruled that prior to the last revision of the Constitution there was no ban on converting temporary positions to permanent positions, enabling courts to judge cases for the conversion of contracts from temporary to indefine on the basis of labour law. In the specific case, the cleaners involved had been employed from 1991 to 1998 and had filed law suits before the Constitutional revision of 2001.

The revised Constitution now expressly forbids the conversion of contracts from temporary to indefinite so the ruling will not apply to anyone hired after 2001.