Gov’t tries to allay protests ahead of vote on multi-bill

As lawmakers continue to debate a multi-bill of austerity measures that is due to go before a crucial vote in Parliament on Wednesday, unions opposing the reforms are to ramp up their protests on Tuesday, holding a 24-hour strike that will disrupt transport and services, and continuing with sit-ins at town halls and municipal offices.

Talks between the union representing the country’s mayors and the ministers overseeing the most controversial aspect of the multi-bill – a streamlining of the civil service – failed to yield a compromise on Tuesday, with the head of the Central Union of Municipalities and Communities of Greece (KEDKE) Costas Askounis declaring that mayors continue to oppose the government’s plans to abolish the municipal police force and the jobs of janitors at state schools.

In various statements to the media, government officials sought to appease fears of impending layoffs. Public Order Minister Nikos Dendias told Skai that the aim was for all municipal police officers to be reposted within the ranks of the Greek Police force. Health Minister Adonis Georgiadis told Mega television channel that more than 1,000 hospital staff scheduled to join a mobility scheme for civil servants by the end of the year would only be subject to reduced wages for two months ahead of their transfer to other posts, insisting that none of them would be laid off.

Unionists struck a defiant stance. The head of the Federation of Secondary Schoolteachers (OLME), Themis Kotsyfakis, told Kathimerini that his union would take legal action against the government over its plans to put teachers in the mobility scheme, while protests and strikes against the reforms are expected in September if not earlier.

Despite the upheaval, government officials said they expected the bill to pass following its approval by Parliament’s economic affairs committee by deputies of New Democracy and PASOK.

Earlier, the government withdrew two controversial provisions – an amendment that would have allowed Deputy Prime Minister Evangelos Venizelos and Defense Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos to travel with the private jet of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and a provision that would have given officials and employees at the Hellenic Financial Stability Fund, which is overseeing the recapitalization of Greek banks, immunity from criminal and civil prosecution.

Tuesday's 24-hour nationwide strike, called by the country’s two main labor unions, will disrupt public transport with no trains and no Proastiakos suburban railway. Buses and trolley buses will be in service between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. to allow demonstrators to join protest rallies, while the urban electric railway and the tram will operate normally as will the Athens metro, apart from its link to Athens International Airport. There will be flight disruptions too as traffic controllers hold a work stoppage between noon and 4 p.m. Hospitals will be operating on emergency staff as employees join the action.