PM draws line on pay demands

Faced with a growing tide of strike action by professional groups seeking to cash in on traditional handouts ahead of national elections, Prime Minister Costas Simitis drew a line yesterday and told senior officials of his PASOK party that demands «beyond all logic» could not be adopted as they would lead to «the destruction of the economy.» Addressing PASOK’s Executive Bureau, Simitis repeated the statement he has made to close aides in the past two days: «We have given what we had to give.» In recent weeks, Simitis has announced a package of handouts and price increases totaling some 2.6 billion euros, which the government says will be funded out of the economy’s growth. National Economy Minister Nikos Christodoulakis, announcing next year’s wage policy, said growth this year would be around 4 percent of GDP while next year it is expected to reach 4.2 percent. University professors, who have been on an indefinite strike for more than two weeks, are demanding a 20 percent pay increase over two years while the government is offering 7.2 percent for this year. State hospital doctors, who want their pay doubled, are being offered 6.6 percent and will hold a three-day strike from Monday. The 2004 budget proposal which Christodoulakis will present to Parliament on Monday will set out pay hikes for a number of civil servants’ groups. These include a 9.8 percent raise for teachers, 7.6 percent for technical college professors (who are also on strike), 5.5 percent for members of the clergy and the judiciary, 4.5 percent for members of the military and the police and 3 percent for diplomats. Five unions of judicial officials say they want raises to bring them to EU levels. The university professors’ union appealed to Simitis, saying, among other things, that unless university budgets were increased by 25 percent and they got extra cash in next year’s budget, «we will harden our stand and close the institutions.» They are staging a protest in central Athens at 1 p.m. today. Sources said Simitis, himself a professor of law, is willing to discuss non-pay demands but referred the professors to the Finance Ministry for wage issues.