PM seeks support in US as unions resist reforms

As Prime Minister Antonis Samaras seeks to drum up interest for sorely needed investments during a visit to the US, where he is to meet with President Barack Obama on Thursday, government officials in Athens are trying to press forward with the hugely unpopular economic reforms Greece has promised its foreign creditors.

Samaras, who is scheduled to meet with Obama at 10 p.m. Greek time on Thursday at the White House in Washington following a separate meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry, was in New York on Wednesday for meetings with Greek-American entrepreneurs.

According to sources, the premier is keen to stress the progress that Greece has made in its economic reform program in a bid to secure investment projects as well as tightening Greek ties with the US.

In a related development, US Vice President Joe Biden expressed Washington’s support for Greece’s reform effort, noting in an interview with Kathimerini to be published on Thursday that the country’s continued presence in the eurozone was “overwhelmingly in our interest.”

It remained clear, however, that Greek government officials will be hard pressed to implement reforms as ministers insisted on the need for Greece to honor pledges to the troika even as unionists emphasized their opposition to the changes.

The government’s plans to transfer thousands of civil servants into a so-called mobility scheme, where they would get reduced pay for eight months ahead of their transfer to another civil service post or face dismissal, continued to stoke anger, particularly among teachers after it emerged that hundreds would be moved to the state health service.

Some 1,300 out of 2,000 state school teachers who are due to join the mobility scheme will assume jobs in the health service, Deputy Education Minister Simeon Kedikoglou told Mega TV on Wednesday, adding that he could not rule out “further horizontal cuts” due to delays in administrative reforms. Kedikoglou, who did not specify what kind of posts teachers would be assigned to in the health service, blamed reform delays on ex-Administrative Reform Minister Antonis Manitakis, who is aligned with the former junior partner in the ruling coalition Democratic Left, saying the latter had “not believed in this reform” during his ministerial stint and had therefore dragged his feet.

The head of the union of secondary school teachers (OLME), Themis Kotsifakis, reacted to Kedikoglou’s comments by declaring that his union would hold industrial action in September to protest the changes.