Ongoing strikes by municipal sanitation workers are turning into a major headache for the leftist-led government, especially amid warnings that rising temperatures will turn the mountains of trash piling up on city streets into a serious public health hazard.
The issue prompted the intervention of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who on Monday night invited the POE-OTA union to the table for talks, after a second round of discussions in as many days with Interior Minister Panos Skourletis failed to reach an agreement on Monday morning.
Unionists turned down a proposal from the ministry on Sunday and returned with a counter-offer on Monday, which, however, was rejected by Skourletis on the grounds that it “had the form of an ultimatum.” “The discussion basically ended before it could even begin,” he said.
After getting the cold shoulder from the minister, union leader Nikos Trakas insisted on the meeting with Tsipras to push POE-OTA’s demand for 6,500 fixed-term contract workers to be hired on a permanent basis despite a ruling by the Court of Auditors banning the practice and restrictions on hirings from the country’s creditors. “Gerovassili and Tsipras said they would take care of workers,” he told Skai TV, referring to the premier and to Administrative Reform Minister Olga Gerovassili.
Skourletis has so far only agreed to fill an unspecified number of positions in sanitation via the official state hiring mechanism. He has also asked municipal authorities around the country to specify exactly how many sanitation workers they need and how many they can afford, as these payroll expenses come out of the municipal rather than state budget.
In the meantime, some parts of Athens heard the welcome clanging and chugging of garbage trucks on Monday, after a smaller municipal workers’ union called POP-OTA, called off its strike.
In Thessaloniki, meanwhile, municipal authorities said they will commission the collection of around 1,200 tons of trash on the city’s streets to a private company on Tuesday unless municipal workers get back to work.
“Having a private contractor collect the trash that has amassed on the streets for three days is not a privatization,” Thessaloniki Mayor Yiannis Boutaris told Kathimerini, dismissing unionists’ reactions to the scheme after they vowed to escalate their action.
Iraklio on Crete started to see some relief on Monday after the municipality’s 150-odd permanent employees decided to get back to work in the wake of an intervention by a prosecutor who stressed the threat to public health. The pileup will not be cleared for a few days, though, as the city’s 88 fixed-contract sanitation workers continue to strike.