Greek workers strike over public job cuts

Unions call walkout over proposed loss of civil service jobs, as Greek leaders meet to discuss new austerity measures.

    Workers in Greece are staging a 24-hour general strike in protest over new government austerity measures which would see 15,000 civil service employees lose their jobs this year.

    Tuesday's strike comes with Greece under mounting pressure to agree to a package of tough economic reforms that would give it access to a $170bn bailout payment to avoid a March default on its bond repayments.

    Party leaders within Greece's coalition government are due to meet on Tuesday to discuss the proposed measures, demanded by its financial backers - the so-called troika of the International Monetary Fund, the European Commission and the European Central Bank - after talks continued into the early hours.

    "The negotiations with the troika are ongoing for the new loan programme. It is clear that there is a lot of pressure being put on the country. A lot of pressure is being placed on the Greek people," Evangelos Venizelo, the finance minister, said during a break in the talks.

    German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, the leaders of the euro zone's two largest economies, are pressing Greece to act fast amid fears a Greek default would jeopardise the economic health of the entire single currency bloc.

    Monday's proposed public sector job cuts signalled a major shift in government policy, as state jobs have so far been protected during the country's two-year financial crisis.

    But the announcement of the measures late on Monday prompted protests by about 4,000 people who braved torrential rains in Athens.

    "The current policy of austerity is turning workers into pariahs, jobless people and pensioners into paupers and deprives our youth of any hope," a statement from the main civil servants' union Civil Servants' Confederation (ADEDY) said.

    "This policy has already pushed Greeks beyond their limits and must be stopped at any cost."

    'Cynical blackmail'

    Yiannis Panagopoulos, leader of Greece's largest union, the General Confederation of Greek Workers (GSEE), said the creditors' demands were certain to lead to more hardship.

    "What is going on is not a negotiation," he said. "It's blunt, cynical blackmail targeting an entire people."

    John Psaropoulos, reporting for Al Jazeera from the site of the strikes in Athens, said that the two umbrella unions representing 2.5 million workers were calling their workers off their jobs.

    The strike is going to be the beginning of the a number of planned industrial actions this month to protest against what seem to certainly be austerity measures in both the private and public sectors, he said.

    He said they expected to hear that there would be cuts to the private-sector wages and that this would affect people on the minimum wage as well.

    This would not just affect well-paid people in the sector but also the poorly paid and would increase the number of people now living below the poverty line, our correspondent said.

    He quoted union leaders as claiming that 1.5 million people were living without a single euro of income at the moment.

    Dimitris Reppas, the public-sector reform minister, said the job cuts would be carried out under a new law allowing public sector workers to be dismissed.

    While the government had promised to reduce the 750,000-strong broader public sector by 150,000 by the end of 2015, it had previously insisted that it could reach that target through staff attrition.

    Our correspondent said that the Greek government was trying to slowly introduce a number of demands from the troika.

    "On the substance there have been efforts to commute certain kinds of paycuts and pension cuts to a gradualised form."

    He said over the last three days the government appeared to be exercising a time-honoured Greek method of leaking things to the press to test public reaction on a communications front. Later politician will either deny or confirm the reports, he said.

    Bailout measures

    As well as the austerity measures, the bailout also depends on separate talks with banks and other private bondholders which would see about $131.6bn written off Greek debt.

    The private investors have been locked in negotiations over swapping their current debt for a cash payment and new bonds worth 50 per cent less than the original face value, longer repayment terms and a cut in the interest rate to be paid on the bonds.

    Greek government officials say they expect private investors to take an overall cut of up to 70 per cent on the value of their bonds.

    Greek leaders have already agreed to cut 2012 spending by 1.5 per cent of gross domestic product, about $4.3bn, improve competitiveness by slashing wages and non-wage costs, and re-capitalise banks without nationalising them.

    Creditors are also demanding spending cuts in defence, health and social security, a cut in the minimum wage, as well as the civil service layoffs, as European pressure increased on Greece to make more concessions.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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