Major trash cleanup under way

Garbage collectors in Athens and many other parts of the country began working around the clock late on Saturday to try to clear an estimated 40,000 tons of rotting garbage that had accumulated over a weeklong strike. All municipalities were expected to be functioning today, as some mayors had not told garbage collectors to resume work immediately. The strike ended on Saturday when the POE-OTA federation was unable to vote to keep it going because the representatives of the ruling PASOK and main opposition New Democracy party did not turn up for the vote. The Communist Party and other smaller leftist groups had wanted to prolong the strike, despite a court ruling late on Thursday that it was illegal. Athens Mayor Dora Bakoyianni mobilized all municipal workers and every possible means in order to rid Athens of 8,500 tons of garbage and the 1,200 tons that accumulate daily. City Hall said it expected the cleanup to last a week and that some 1,400 workers (on double and triple shifts) will have collected a total of 16,000 tons by then. It was not quite clear what the municipal workers had achieved by the strike which raised serious concerns for the public health as mountains of garbage piled up in unseasonably hot weather. The national union of local governments (KEDKE) assured them last week that it could guarantee subsidies of 100 euros per worker, but it could not give in to protests against allowing private companies to perform some municipal services. The Interior Ministry had said that it would only discuss institutional issues – such as a demand that more categories of workers be classified as doing hazardous work (and therefore achieving benefits, such as early retirement) – if the strike ended.