PM gives praise but little hope to municipal staff

Unionists representing local authority workers insisted on Wednesday that employees could not do their jobs — including cleaning city streets and providing basic municipal services — if the cash-strapped government fails to disburse money for outstanding salaries.

Despite reassuring words from Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and Interior Minister Evripidis Stylianidis, who met with protesters to discuss the grievances that are fueling strike action, unionists appeared skeptical.

?We want to believe that the minister will offer a solution during our conference,? said the head of the Confederation of Greek Municipalities (KEDE), Costas Askounis, referring to an emergency summit scheduled for today. ?If he doesn?t do this, more than 40 municipalities will be unable to pay salaries or to collect trash,? Askounis added.

Samaras, who met with unionists for two-and-a-half hours, even as garbage collectors drove trash trucks through the city center in protest at the cutbacks a few blocks away, sung the praises of municipal workers but stopped short of offering the sought-after guarantees.

?I am aware of the sacrifices of local authorities,? Samaras said, referring to cutbacks of up to 60 percent to municipal funding since the beginning of the country?s debt crisis in 2010. ?But the crisis has affected us all,? Samaras added, noting that he regarded municipal workers as ?genuine fellow fighters in this national and social struggle. The national effort being made by me and my partners to keep Greece in the hard core of Europe must be supported by everyone.?

Municipal services are to remain closed in Attica and elsewhere in the country on Thursday as workers continue with strike action. A decision about whether to continue with industrial action is expected to be taken by unionists on Thursday.

Around 1,000 people participated in Wednesday?s protest rally, which accompanied a motorcade of trash trucks. Traffic police briefly detained the drivers of the trucks but released them without charge.