GSEE ‘to fight to the end’

Greece’s most powerful workers’ union federation vowed yesterday to «fight to the end,» through strike and legal action, a labor reform bill coming to Parliament this month. The Greek General Confederation of Labor (GSEE), representing more than 2 million public and private sector workers, has called a nationwide December 14 strike against the bill which would end jobs for life for new hires at state companies in an effort to make them more competitive. «We will fight to the end,» GSEE President Christos Polyzogopoulos told Reuters in an interview. «We will fight this bill with labor action and with legal action even if it passes through Parliament.» The center-right government, which came to power in 2004 after over two decades of nearly continuous Socialist rule, is eager to reform the public sector, cutting costs and making ineffective state firms more attractive to private investors. Encouraged by a successful redundancy plan which helped major telecom OTE shed one-third of its workers, the government presented the labor bill this week, saying it was a watershed for long-overdue reforms. Economists have hailed it as a major step in making Greece’s rigid labor market more flexible. Polyzogopoulos slammed the OTE plan for shifting the problem to social security funds, which are facing bankruptcy due to Greece’s aging population. He said some people were retiring at 45, while others were told they must wait even longer into their 60s to collect pensions. Reforms boost bourse Although labor and other reforms have helped the Athens Stock Exchange rise by about 25 percent since the start of the year, analysts say Greece must launch even more drastic moves to boost productivity and limit deficits. But the government, fearing social unrest, has been hesitant to take on too much too soon. It has made clear the labor bill would not affect civil services, such as tax offices or ministries, but only new hires at state companies. Athens faces EU sanctions if it fails to rein in its budget gap to below the EU ceiling of 3 percent of GDP after revealing it underestimated its deficits for years. For 2005, Athens expects its deficit to reach 4.3 percent of GDP. Labor unions say it is unfair to make workers pay the price for the chronic bad management of state firms and to create two classes of workers – those safe in their posts and those easily fired. «Such a bill affecting tens of thousands of people should not be going to Parliament without a single meeting with us,» Polyzogopoulos said. «No change can take place without securing the workers’ agreement.» The GSEE president said unions across the country were eager for the December 14 walkout, expected to freeze the private sector, and more action is being discussed at local level, signaling the end to relative labor peace in recent years. «The workers will give a clear message that this policy is not acceptable,» he said.