Unions rally behind transit workers as PM issues orders to return to work

There will be no public transport in Athens on Friday as transit unions moved on Thursday to support striking colleagues on the city’s metro system after the government issued civil mobilization orders to force the workers to return to their jobs following an eight-day protest.

“The Greek people have made huge sacrifices and I cannot allow any exceptions,” Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said on Thursday evening in reference to the metro workers’ insistence that they be exempted from the public sector wage structure. “Everyone should understand we will not repeat the mistakes of the past.”

Earlier, the head of the metro workers’ union, Antonis Stamatopoulos, proposed that employees call off their strike if the government agreed to pay them according to their collective contract, which lasts until April, and hold wage discussions in parallel. Metro employees, who have already had their salaries cut, stand to lose an average of about 20 percent of their wages.

Samaras held lengthy talks with Development Minister Costis Hatzidakis before the latter said the government would be instructing authorities to deliver civil mobilization orders to the striking metro workers as well as tram and electric railway employees, who total some 2,500 people. The employees face arrest if they don’t return to work after receiving the documents. The order to resume work is valid as of 5 a.m. Friday.

On hearing of the government’s decision, Stamatopoulos accused the government of being a “junta” and said that the protesting workers who had gathered at the metro’s main depot in Sepolia would not be brought out of there alive. All the other public transport unions came out in support of the metro workers by announcing 24-hour strikes for Friday. Greece’s main private sector union, GSEE, also backed the action. Two senior SYRIZA MPs, Panayiotis Lafazanis and Dimitris Stratoulis, visited the Sepolia depot to express support for the strikers and their opposition to the government’s decision.

Coalition partner Democratic Left also voiced objections, describing the civil mobilization order as “an extreme choice,” and called for more dialogue. However, party sources underlined that the issue would not cause a rift within the three-party government.

PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos expressed support for Samaras’s decision, describing the strike as “unacceptable.”