Greek unions call 3-day general strike over new austerity

AP News
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Posted: May 05, 2016 11:41 AM

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Unions in Greece have called a three-day general strike to protest against new bailout austerity measures, in a sign of growing discontent with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras' left-wing government.

State-run, municipal and many private services, from garbage collection to television news programs, will be cancelled or disrupted starting Friday and through the weekend. Ferries to the Greek islands will be halted for four days.

Lawmakers are currently debating an overhaul of the pension system, proposed by the government under Greece's obligations to rescue lenders from other eurozone countries.

They will vote on the draft legislation late Sunday, testing Tsipras, who has a majority of just three seats in the 300-member parliament.

Workers will pay higher contributions under the planned pension reforms, which have triggered months of protests, including highway blockades by farmers and walkouts by lawyers and other professional groups.

On Thursday, striking municipal workers blocked a garbage truck depot and staged occupations at city hall offices around the capital.

"No one can stand any more (austerity). We're fighting for the future of our children," protest organizer Nikos Drakas said.

Greece has been battered by six years of austerity measures and nearly a quarter of the workforce unemployed. Talks on what reforms Greece should make next have been held up for six months, delaying the payout of vital bailout loans and weighing on the economy's outlook.

Eurozone finance ministers are due to hold a special meeting on the Greek program in Brussels on Monday.

Despite having a relatively weak welfare system, Greece spends heavily on its aging population. Annual state financing on pensions is equivalent to 14.5 percent of gross domestic product, according to the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. That's nearly twice the average of other developed nations.

The government insisted the reforms would create a fairer system, and end years of political pandering to powerful labor groups.

"The pie for pension payments may now be smaller, but for the first time the system will be fair," Labor Minister George Katrougalos told parliament.

"The burden of reform will no longer be pushed to future generations."

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Nicholas Paphitis and Elena Becatoros contributed to this report.

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