Greece hit with new general strike over reforms

AFP , Tuesday 16 Jul 2013

Thousands of demonstrators in Athens and Thessaloniki hold strike over impending cutbacks for municipal employees

Supporters of the Communist-affiliated trade union PAME take part in an anti-austerity rally during a 24-hour general strike in Athens, July, 16, 2013 (Photo: Reuters)

A general strike gripped Greece on Tuesday for the fourth time this year as unions railed at fresh austerity measures the government is imposing in order to keep receiving EU-IMF loans.

The strike halted trains and shut down public services across the country, kept hospital services to a minimum and disrupted a dozen domestic flights.

Crucially for the country's tourism season, however, ferry services to the Greek islands were unaffected.

Thousands of protesters gathered ahead of rallies to be held later in the day, with 16,000 demonstrators coming out in Athens and 7,000 in Thessaloniki, according to police.

Unions called the latest one-day national mobilisation in protest at a new bill that implements fresh reforms, including the re-deployment of thousands of civil servants.

"Workers are continuing the struggle to put a final end to these exterminating policies that lead the economy to ever-deepening recession," the main Greek union GSEE said.

Municipal employees, who are going to be affected by the new measures, have been on strike since Monday.

The new bill, which parliament will start debating on Tuesday and is due to be voted on Wednesday, is needed in order for Greece to start receiving 6.8 billion euros ($8.9 billion) of fresh aid that eurozone finance ministers agreed to release at a meeting last week.

Under the terms of its international bailouts, Greece has had to reform its bloated civil service, which has been hit by sweeping pay and pension cuts over the past three years.

If the bill passes as expected on Wednesday night, 4,200 civil servants -- teachers, school wardens and municipal police who are to be integrated into the national force -- will be placed under so-called redeployment.

They will receive 75 percent of their salary for an eight-month period, at the end of which, if they have not accepted a transfer to some other administrative department, they risk losing their jobs.

GSEE called the bill a "tombstone" for Greek workers.

Under the terms of its latest EU-IMF bailout deal agreed in 2012, Greece is expected to axe 4,000 state jobs and redeploy 25,000 civil servants overall by the end of the year.

Part of the layoffs quota came last month when the government shut down state broadcaster ERT, sacking over 2,600 staff.

The shock move nearly brought down the coalition government of conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, who saw one of his allies defect and is now governing with a reduced five-seat majority in parliament.

The debt-wracked country has had to enact a string of austerity measures over the past four years in return for multi-billion euro international bailouts to avoid default.

The measures are deeply unpopular in the country that recently entered a sixth straight year of recession and where unemployment has climbed to 27 percent, a level unseen in Greece's modern history.

Among the youth, unemployment stands at 64 percent.

The prime minister defended the latest measures in a Sunday interview.

"For every single person eventually let go, somebody else who is currently unemployed will be hired. Overall, in two years 15,000 civil servants out of 700,000 will leave, [which is] only two percent," Samaras told Proto Thema weekly.

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