Greek unions call general strike against job cuts [update]

Greece’s two main labor unions on Wednesday announced a 24-hour general strike to protest legislation that includes plans to ax thousands of civil service jobs so the country can keep receiving vital funds from its international bailout.

The union announcement for a July 16 general strike came after the government announced the first details of major staff cuts for its bloated public sector — measures that are long overdue in Greece’s reform program.

Austerity plans “which have led workers into destitution and have deprived them of their basic democratic rights cannot and must not remain unanswered,” said the GSEE union, which along with ADEDY form the two largest unions covering both the private and public sector.

The conservative-led coalition government submitted an omnibus bill in parliament late Tuesday night, which includes details of public sector staff cuts, so that it can still receive billions of euros in rescue loans from other European countries and the International Monetary Fund. The country has been relying on the funds since May 2010, and in return has pledged to overhaul its economy.

Euro area finance ministers on Monday approved disbursing loan installments worth 6.8 billion euros ($8.7 billion) for Greece despite the country already missing a deadline to place 12,500 workers in a program that subjects them to involuntary transfers, and possible dismissals, within the public sector.

Greece has also promised to ax a further 15,000 jobs by the end of next year. On Tuesday, the government said it had been given three months by rescue lenders to catch up, and announced it was placing 4,200 workers — including school guards and teachers — on an eight-month suspension with reduced pay before the end of July. If they cannot be absorbed into other positions after the eight-month period, they face dismissal.

Tuesday’s job-reduction announcement marked a shift in Greece’s grueling austerity program which has relied heavily on pay cuts and tax hikes to try to balance its budget. This has hammered the private sector and dragged the country into a sixth year of recession.

Municipal workers — including Athens municipal police, who are generally tasked with checking parking violations and checking street vendors — angered by their inclusion in the job cuts, have embarked on symbolic occupations of municipal buildings and are staging 24-hour rolling strikes.

The financial crisis has plunged Greece into a deep recession, with unemployment spiraling to above 27 percent, and above 60 percent for those under 25. It has also triggered a series of political crises which led to the country seeing four governments in as many years.

Last month, the coalition government cobbled together after 2012 elections came to the brink of collapse. A small left-wing party pulled out of the coalition after Prime Minister Antonis Samaras suddenly shut down the state broadcaster, ERT, and fired its 2,700 employees.

Its departure left the government with a slim majority — 153 of parliament’s 300 seats.

ERT’s former staff has continued broadcasting over the internet and occupied the ERT building in Athens. Greece’s high court ruled last month that government should not have switched off the public TV signal, despite conceding that it had the right to restructure the broadcaster.

The government began retransmitting a signal on the station’s frequencies Wednesday, showing only a logo under the new name of Greek Public Television, or EDT.

Pandelis Kapsis, the new minister tasked with handling the dissolution of ERT, told Greek media that programming would restart within hours with movies and documentaries and news being shown in a scrolling bar across the screen.

ERT journalists issued a statement describing the move as illegal and accusing the government of resorting to “telepiracy.” [AP]

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