Greece gripped by new protests over draft bill on labor market reform

08:54, December 15, 2010      

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A Greek demonstrator dressed like an industrialist attends a rally in Athens, capital of Greece, Dec. 14, 2010. Labor unions of public servants staged protests over austerity measures introduced by the government to tackle a severe economic crisis in Greece. (Xinhua/Marios Lolos)

Greece was gripped once again by a wave of protests on Tuesday over a draft bill on the labor market reform due to be ratified by the Greek parliament later this evening.

Commuters across Athens faced traffic jams throughout the day, as employees in public transport services staged a 24-hour strike over the draft bill which reduces collective agreements between labor unions and employees.

Train services across Greece shut down and flights were rescheduled in a rehearsal ahead of Wednesday's new 24-hour general strike over austerity measures promoted to fight an acute debt crisis.

The labor market reform bill also introduces new 10 percent cutbacks on salaries of public servants earning more than 1,800 euros (2,418 U.S. dollars) per month, aiming to increase revenues for the Greek debt-ridden state.

Public transport employees' anger increased, as the cabinet debated a plan to restructure services of the sector which envisages involuntary staff transfers, merging of companies and raises on tickets.

The Greek socialist government argues that the policies implemented are vital for the rescue of the national economy. Through the implementation of the latest plan to restructure public transport services they expect that deficits in this sector will be reduced from 389 million euros (522.6 million U.S. dollars) in 2010 to 155 million euros (208.2 million U.S. dollars) in 2011.

Greece reached the brink of default this spring and secured a multi-billion euro aid package by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund in exchange for harsh measures to fix pressing woes over a three-year period.

Protesters who gathered in front of the parliament building in the center of Athens on Tuesday to denounce the bill and the measures insisted that "there is another way" to tackle the crisis.

"We fight back those who try to steal our bread," chanted demonstrators who included employees at the Athens subway and buses, doctors of public health services who are on a five-day strike since Monday and bank employees who stage a 48-hour strike starting from Tuesday.

"Enough is enough. We will strike until victory," said one of the banners raised by protesters who staged theatrical shows in front of the parliament building.

Young people acting like "honest industrialists" asked the government to "abolish ... wages, pensions and labor rights altogether so that rich people can get richer."

The umbrella unions of public and private sector employees ADEDY and GSEE who also organize Wednesday's general strike -- the ninth this year -- called work stoppages on Tuesday, so that citizens can join the rallies.

Protesting police officers staged their own demonstration on Tuesday afternoon in front of the old parliament building over cutbacks on wages, allowances, tax hikes and pension system reform policies which also affect them.

Wednesday's strike is expected to paralyze the public sector and disrupt a part of the private sector, as schools, airports, ports, courts and public services will not run. Journalists and taxi drivers will also join the general strike this time.

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