Civil servants intent on blocking reforms

With only 10 days left until a team from the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Commission arrives in Athens to check how Greece is progressing with its economic reforms ahead of receiving an 8-billion-euro loan tranche next month, the government is facing a battle with civil servants that could hamper its effort to make changes.

The government has a number of loose ends it needs to tie up by the time the troika inspectors arrive in Athens on August 22. These include the shutting down of public bodies, the introduction of a single pay structure in the civil service and the speeding up of a privatization program.

However, on the last two, PASOK appears to have come up against fierce resistance from public sector workers. Civil servants? union ADEDY made it clear this week that its members would strike in September if their wages are cut further. Bureaucrats have already seen their salaries slashed by up to 30 percent since last year. This week, they also began working an extra 30 minutes each day, taking their working week to 40 hours from 37.5.

ADEDY also said on Thursday that it would attempt to block the effort to sell state assets. ?For us, this is an act of national treason and those who attempt it will face the consequences accordingly,? ADEDY general secretary Ilias Iliopoulos told The Associated Press. ?We will use all means at our disposal to hopefully overturn the government but mainly to file lawsuits against those who sign these agreements.?

Iliopoulos said the union intended to send a message to ?so-called investors who want to snatch our national wealth at a humiliating price.?

Sources said that there has in fact been a conversation in government circles about drawing up a new timetable for the privatizations given the dire state of international markets at the moment, as Greece would be selling its assets at far from prime prices.

However, the government, which has already warned ADEDY not to attempt to hamper revenue collection services in a protest, is facing a political conundrum. Apart from the fact that there is considerable resentment building among the country?s some 800,000 civil servants, there are also some within the ruling party that feel PASOK should adopt a softer approach in dealing with public sector workers.