Greece Hit by Strikes, Power Cuts over Pension Bill
By Karolos Grohmann, Reuters
March 11, 2008
Greek electricity utility unions vowed to extend their strike in protest against a pension reform bill on Tuesday with more power cuts, and council workers joined a strike over the bill that unions say cuts benefits.
Greece's ruling conservatives face more stoppages this week as unions accuse the government of backtracking and drafting a bill that increases retirement age and reduces benefits, mainly to women and working mothers.
The government, plagued by months of protests over the changes, insists reforms are needed to save the ailing social security system from a possible collapse in 15 years' time.
Public and private sector umbrella unions plan a three-hour work stoppage on Wednesday and a general nationwide strike for March 19.
Athens airport ground staff, workers in factories and other large private enterprises, lawyers and doctors will take part in Wednesday's strike, from 12 to 3 p.m.
Bank of Greece employees and garbage collectors continued their days-long strike with heaps of garbage growing while local council workers joined the strike on Tuesday.
Parliamentary debate on the reform bill starts later on Tuesday.
STRIKE GRIP TIGHTENS
Experts say actuarial deficits for pension funds could grow to 400 billion euros ($611.6 billion), about twice the country's GDP, if the social security system is left unchanged -- a serious fiscal threat.
According to the draft, women will be most affected by changes, which increases pension age and in some cases reduces benefits.
Garbage collectors will decide on Wednesday whether to extend their work stoppage.
"There are now problems with the meat and dairy products I have in stock and we cannot plan ahead any more," said Athens butcher Yannis Tsingas, noting that his stocks had already been affected by power cuts to his fridges.
"We will make every effort to minimise power cuts," electricity utility company PPC chairman Takis Athanasopoulos told reporters on Tuesday after a meeting with unions to try and avoid a natiowide power black out yielded only a temporary settlement.
"This is a difficult time for us and we apologize."
But unions vowed to press on with more strikes, hitting consumers and businesses. "Our power cuts are aimed at minimising disruption," PPC union leader Nikos Fotopoulos said. "But we will continue with them”.
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