Workers in Greece have staged their first walkout since a new conservative government took office in July, resulting in island ferries remaining moored in ports and public buses and trains running on reduced services.
The centre-right government of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis came to power on pledges to speed up investments and spur growth in a country where economic output shrank by a quarter during a decade-long financial crisis.
Tuesday’s 24-hour action was triggered by proposed government reforms that unions say will make it harder for them to call strikes.
The proposed legislation, which will be put through parliament mid-October, allows workers to vote remotely on industrial action without attending meetings, permits changes in some collective work agreements and allows the establishment of a registry for labour unions.
Labour union ADEDY, which represents about half-a-million civil servants, said the changes the government was trying to usher through parliament would hobble the right to strike.
“The right to strike is the worker’s ultimate tool and we need to defend it with all our might,” ADEDY said in a statement.
Unions representing workers in fields as diverse as banking to education urged members to go on strike. Demonstrations are expected later on Tuesday in central Athens, where the action knocked out most forms of public transport, even though the capital’s underground will function most of the day.
Reporting from Athens, Al Jazeera’s John Psaropoulos said workers at banks, schools and hospitals were also on strike, adding that the centre of the capital was cordoned off before the expected marches.
The government plan also introduces a National Programme for Simplification of Procedure – a fast-track licencing process for major investments.
Psaropoulos said the proposed legislation is seen by the government as necessary to achieve a stated target to grow the economy by four percent annually.
However, the unions say the bill is against workers’ rights because it forces them to register their memberships with the labour ministry.
“They consider that as a form of surveillance. Union membership is something that is secret and discretionary,” Psaropoulos said.
“It isn’t something that a worker has to divulge to their employer. People are afraid of leakages of information and of ministry databases being hacked.”
Psaropoulos said another issue seen as problematic by the unions was that under the proposed legislation, voting about strikes would occur online, whereas workers would rather use the existing secret ballot system on paper, he added.