Greek workers step up protests against wage caps

Reuters News
Posted: Oct 10, 2011 12:13 PM
Greek workers step up protests against wage caps

By Harry Papachristou

ATHENS (Reuters) - Workers at state-owned Greek companies including oil refiners, power utilities, ports and water operators plan to walk off the job on October 18 to fight planned pay cuts that are part of a new bailout plan, labor unions said on Monday.

Wage cuts were originally meant to apply only to civil servants, as part of public spending curbs imposed by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund under a program to avert the risk of impending bankruptcy.

But in a last-minute change to the latest package of austerity measures, submitted to parliament last week, pay cuts will be extended to state-controlled enterprises that are listed on the stock exchange.

The measures will set strict caps on the average wage at all public sector employers, including state-controlled companies and the civil service, resulting in big cuts for many workers.

"Greece is being sacrificed for the sake of European banks, and the government is sending workers to the guillotine instead of protecting them," Nikos Kioutsoukis, general secretary of private sector union GSEE told Reuters.

Public discontent is rising as the center-left government of Prime Minister George Papandreou takes ever harsher austerity measures to make up for falling behind on budget targets agreed with international lenders.

Kioutsoukis said state-owned companies would go on strike on October 18, a day before the country's two biggest unions, GSEE and its public sector sister ADEDY, representing about half the country's workforce, have called a 24-hour general strike.

On Monday, Athens transport workers went on strike, disrupting bus and metro services in the capital.

Kioutsoukis said the unions are considering holding another 24-hour strike to coincide with the parliamentary vote on the austerity bill, which includes wage and pension cuts, tax hikes and public sector layoff plans.

The vote is expected this month but a date has not yet been set and will depend on the parliamentary timetable.

Late on Sunday, workers at Greece's biggest refiner Hellenic Petroleum said they would start a walkout on Tuesday. They are demanding to be exempted from the draft law which would cap average wage cost per employee at 1,900 euros ($2,563) a month.

"By late Wednesday all the company's three refiners will have ground to a halt," Hellenic's labor union leader Panagiotis Ofthalmides told Reuters.

Bank employees' unions said they would join the strikes planned for next week, while workers at the dominant electricity producer PPC have also pledged to oppose the law.

"PPC workers suffered in 2010 average pay cuts of between 15 and 50 percent... we won't allow the destruction of our families," their GENOP union said in a press release.

If lawmakers approve the law in its current form, the cap would also apply to other listed companies such as the two biggest water utilities Athens Water and Thessaloniki Water.

Greece is also expected to sell stakes in the state controlled companies to meet privatization targets set by its international lenders.

($1 = 0.741 Euros)

(Additional reporting by Renee Maltezou; Editing by Paul Taylor)