Greek public sector workers strike as job cuts run into fifth straight year

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 12, 2014 5:45 AM

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greek public sector workers shut schools and left hospitals on emergency staffing levels on Wednesday to protest against thousands more job cuts demanded by foreign lenders even as unemployment holds near record highs.

Doctors, teachers and school guards joined the 24-hour strike and planned marches to parliament, the focal point of anti-austerity protests, where lawmakers will debate a draft bill on public sector reforms.

Labour unions fear Greece will have to impose even more wage and pension cuts in the coming years to meet the targets of its 240 billion euro bailout deal with the European Union and IMF.

"They won't stop unless we stop them," public sector union ADEDY, which organized the walkout, said in a statement, calling the reforms "an attack on workers' rights".

Greece's lenders have demanded 11,400 public sector layoffs this year, the fifth straight year of job cuts in the sector.

About a dozen municipal workers waving orange flags chained themselves to metal barriers in front of parliament in protest.

Anti-austerity sentiment remains high in Greece, where repeated bouts of belt-tightening since it was rescued from bankruptcy in 2010 have left three times as many Greeks jobless, pushed up homelessness and eroded living standards.

Unemployment stood at 27.5 percent in December, little changed from a record high 27.7 percent hit in October, despite signs of an economic recovery.

Political parties opposing austerity from across the political spectrum are expected to do well in European Parliament elections in May, according to opinion polls.

ADEDY and private sector union GSEE have brought people onto the streets repeatedly since the crisis erupted, with as many as 100,000 taking to the streets in some demonstrations. But turnout has been low in the last year as a growing sense of resignation sets in among Greek workers.

Greece's economy has shrunk by almost 24 percent over the past six years in the deepest and most protracted peacetime recession in its history, data showed on Tuesday.

(This story was corrected in paragraph 8 to say unemployment hit record high 27.7 percent in October, not 28 percent in November)

(Reporting by Karolina Tagaris; Editing by Hugh Lawson)