Municipal garbage collectors on Tuesday rejected a proposed compromise by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras aimed at ending an 11-day protest that has left huge piles of trash on city streets, vowing to continue protest action through Wednesday as temperatures soar. However, a decision to increase the number of emergency staff working in municipal sanitation indicated that the standoff might be easing.
Representatives of the union, POE-OTA, met with Tsipras at the Maximos Mansion for talks in the morning and officials initially indicated that the discussions had gone well. However, the union’s executive committee later in the day decided to reject Tsipras’s proposal, claiming that it offered an only slight improvement on the original recommended compromise by Interior Minister Panos Skourletis.
POE-OTA leader Nikos Trakas said the protest will go on as planned until at least Wednesday, for when the union has called a 24-hour strike and protest rally in central Athens. Municipal workers have been staging work stoppages and blockading depots where municipal trash collection trucks are based as well as landfill sites. Wednesday’s 24-hour strike is to follow a day-long walkout last Thursday.
The impasse comes as thousands of tons of trash rot on the streets of Athens and other cities amid sweltering conditions and with temperatures set to hit 43 degrees Celsius on Friday.
Health officials have warned that the uncollected garbage represents a growing health risk amid such high temperatures. The collection of all the trash on the streets, when it starts, is expected to take around three days.
The government has been trying to work around a recent court ruling that banned the extension of short-term state jobs contracts.
Skourletis had offered to provide permanent jobs to 2,500 of the workers in a new competition to be held in a few months’ time. But unionists objected, noting that the proposed jobs tender set an age ceiling of 45 years, which would have discounted many of the contract workers. They also want permanent jobs to be available to all contract workers.
Tuesday’s proposed compromise pledged thousands of rehirings and increased the age limit to 50 but POE-OTA said it remained “unsatisfactory.”
Athens Mayor Giorgos Kaminis slammed unionists for rejecting the offer, saying their decision to continue was “unwise and excessive.”
According to sources, there had been optimism among Tsipras’s aides earlier on Tuesday that the protest would abate amid reports of differences of opinion in the ranks of the union. The optimism was tempered by the collapse of unionists’ talks with Tsipras. But sources indicated that the protest is likely to lose its momentum as the decision by a smaller union to break the strike, and by Thessaloniki Mayor Yiannis Boutaris to outsource garbage collection to a private company, will result in the situation being alleviated.
In comments to Kathimerini on Tuesday, Boutaris said the firm will be used for three days alongside municipal workers. There was tension at a city council meeting on Tuesday, however, where the issue was being discussed.