NEWS

Greek public sector strike to ground flights, disrupt public services

TAGS: Strike

Flights to and from Athens will be grounded on Thursday and services at tax and municipal offices will be disrupted as state workers walk off the job to protest against pension and tax reforms demanded by Greece's foreign lenders.

The strike coincides with a review of Greece's international bailout, agreed last year, which the left-led coalition government wants to conclude swiftly so that talks on debt relief can begin. It is struggling to convince Greeks that their sacrifices are paying off after six years of austerity.

Teachers, doctors, air-traffic controllers and pensioners are expected to join the 24-hour, nationwide walkout by the country's biggest public sector union, ADEDY. Striking workers will start rallying in central Athens at around 0800 GMT.

“We can stop them,” read ADEDY's main banner. “We won't allow these unpopular policies.”

ADEDY represents about 500,000 public-sector workers and pensioners, although the participation rate in demonstrations called by the group is usually considerably smaller.

Inspectors from Greece's bailout lenders, the European Commission, the European Central Bank, European Stability Mechanism and the International Monetary Fund, arrived in Athens this week to review progress on reforms and fiscal measures.

But disagreements between them over the extent of fiscal consolidation Athens must pursue to plug a fiscal gap estimated at 3 percent by the EU and 4.5 percent by the IMF, and how much debt relief Greece may need, have cast a shadow over the review.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras's government, which has only a slender parliamentary majority, has promised to trim pension spending this year by 1 percent of GDP, or 1.8 billion euros.

Loath to hurt 2.7 million pensioners whose monthly stipend has been cut 11 times in the past five years, Tsipras has opted to increase social security contributions paid by employers, farmers and self-employed professionals.

The latter group includes lawyers, who have been abstaining from court duty for weeks.

The government must also present a comprehensive income tax reform and other tax measures to help boost revenues.

[Reuters]

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