Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Pensions strike brings Greece to standstill

Pensions strike brings Greece to standstill

This article was first published on on Wednesday March 19 2008. It was last updated at 13:01 on March 19 2008.
Striking bank workers demonstrate in Athens yesterday

Striking bank workers demonstrate in Athens yesterday. Photograph: Orestis Panagiotou/EPA

Public services were paralysed and dozens of flights cancelled in Greece today as workers took part in a nationwide general strike over government plans to reform the country's debt-ridden pension scheme.

Thousands of people gathered for a mass rally in Athens after walking out of their workplaces in the third strike since December.

Since winning re-election in September, Greece's conservative government has pushed to change the pension system, warning it could soon collapse if it is not overhauled.

Parliament is due to vote on the draft reforms tomorrow. The proposed changes would raise the effective retirement age for women and unify more than 100 pension health funds. Unions say the reforms limit workers' benefits without improving the system.

"The government must not underestimate this public outrage," said Spyros Papaspyros, one of the strike organisers at the civil servants' union Adedy.

Hospital doctors, air traffic controllers, bakers, teachers, journalists and hotel employees joined thousands of rail workers who took part in a 24-hour strike yesterday, bringing the country's transport system to a standstill. Banks and law courts were also shut.

Litter piled up on the streets as waste collectors continued to strike. Meanwhile, a shortage of employees at Greece's main power company has caused rolling blackouts for the past two weeks.

Yiannis Panagopoulos, the head of the GSEE union, claimed "millions" of people were expected to join the protests.

He said the unions would continue to resist the pension reforms even if they were voted into law.

"The battle doesn't stop with the vote on the legislation," Panagopoulos said. "The legislation needs to be implemented when it becomes law. And there resistance will reach its climax."

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