Strikers’ call for pay rises rebuffed

Many public sector employees, including teachers, judges, doctors and local authority employees, have either begun or will begin strikes this week to demand wage increases of up to 25 percent. Public schools were shut down throughout the country but most private schools stayed open. Yesterday, teachers and local authority employees staged separate marches, to the ministries of Education and Interior, respectively. Their meetings with Education Minister Petros Efthymiou and Deputy Interior Minister Lambros Papademas ended in failure, however, as both officials insisted that the government had already given satisfactory pay rises. The two marches were timed to coincide with the submission of the draft 2004 budget to Parliament. The budget includes increased spending for farmers and social security, among others. These measures, announced last month by Prime Minister Costas Simitis and Economy and Finance Minister Nikos Christodoulakis, have led to increased demands for pay rises that far exceed inflation. Government spokesman Christos Protopappas yesterday reiterated the official position that «the pay rises already offered are at the limits of what the economy can afford.» Despite this, the government itself is worried that the handouts it announced last month may have opened a Pandora’s box of claims and that protests could escalate.