Friday, July 02, 2010

Greece's biggest union calls new strike for July 8

Associated Press

ATHENS, Greece—Greece's biggest labor union on Thursday called a new nationwide strike for next week to protest proposed reforms to the debt-hobbled country's pension and labor systems.

The GSEE private sector umbrella union said it had timed the walkout to coincide with a vote in parliament on the new reforms, on July 8.

Greece is in the throes of a major debt crisis. In May, it narrowly avoided defaulting on its loans using the first part of a European Union and International Monetary Fund relief package worth euro110 billion.

In return, the government undertook painful cuts and tax hikes, and proposed legislation that would raise retirement ages and reduce many pensions, saying the country's pension system would otherwise collapse. The draft law would also make it cheaper for companies to sack employees.

GSEE said it completely rejected the proposed reforms and "will not accept any changes that lead to new unfair and unbearable measures that hurt workers and pensioners."

Officials at the ADEDY umbrella civil servants' union said ADEDY was also expected to call a strike July 8. That would make it Greece's sixth general strike this year. (Comment from Anasitaxi: ADEDY decided to call a strike July 8 today)

The two unions held their last general strike on Tuesday, when some 16,000 people took part in a central Athens protest that was marred by street violence. Police arrested six suspected rioters, and seven officers were injured in the clashes.

Previous protests have also been violent. On May 5, three workers died in a bank torched by rioters. The deaths shocked Greek society, and later protests were much more muted.

A new sales tax increase took effect Thursday, raising prices of basic consumer goods and services, including gas prices and highway tolls.

The center-left government imposed the increase in Value Added Tax, or VAT, from 21 to 23 percent. It was the second VAT increase this year, following a hike from 19 percent in March.

Trading associations said they would try to limit price increases despite the tax increase.

The government has not ruled out further VAT hikes if legal challenges against some of its cost-cutting measures are successful.

Also Thursday, Athens was left without buses for several hours as state-employed drivers went on strike to protest delays in their salary payments. They went back to work after the government promised to accelerate payments.

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