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Thousands march, disrupt transport in Greek strike

AFP , Wednesday 28 Nov 2018
People demonstrate outside the parliament as part of a 24-hour nationwide strike by private sector labour union and the communist PAME workers union, to call for a wage rise and to reinstate collective wage agreements in central Athens on November 28, 2018 (Photo: AFP)
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Thousands of people protested in Athens on Wednesday in a 24-hour strike over higher wages and pensions that disrupted ferries and trains.

Around 7,000 people responded to a call by Greece's main private-sector union GSEE and Communist-affiliated PAME, but turnout was lower compared to past labour strikes.

The walkout confined passenger ships to port, halted intercity trains and disrupted public transport in the Greek capital, causing massive traffic jams.

The unions want the leftist government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to raise pay levels now that the country has emerged from its international bailouts which required successive administrations to cut state spending, including on wages, over the past eight years.

"There are still difficulties after years of crisis, and the solutions are not in workers' favour," protester Maria Kotronou, an engineer, told AFP.

"We are offered renewable two and three-month contracts when we carry out the tasks of full-time staff," she said.

GSEE is calling for an increase in the official minimum wage to 751 euros ($852) from around 580 euros currently.

Citing a recent report from the International Labour Organisation, Greek media on Wednesday reported that salaries in the country fell every year by an average of 3.1 percent between 2008 and 2017.

- Heavy taxes, reduced income -

Greece emerged from its third bailout in August, but is still committed to a primary budget surplus -- which does not include debt repayments -- of 3.5 percent of GDP through 2022, and 2.2 percent through 2060, based on average economic growth of three percent a year.

Still owing billions of euros in bailout loans, Greece remains under 'post-programme surveillance'.

Unemployment has fallen below 20 percent for the first time since 2011, but most Greeks continue to struggle under heavy taxes and drastically reduced income.

Another sign of concern is the repeated hammering of Greek banks, which have steadily lost billions in market value this year.

Ahead of an election year in 2019, Tsipras has promised to raise the minimum wage and avert a planned pension cut previously agreed with the country's creditors.

Other unions staged a separate one-day strike on November 14, which included civil servants and teachers.

The European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund overall loaned Greece 289 billion euros ($328 billion) in three successive programmes in 2010, 2012 and 2015.

Greece is the fifth and last eurozone country after Portugal, Ireland, Spain and Cyprus to emerge from a bailout programme.

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