NEWS

Greek professionals stage ‘necktie protest’ over pensions

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More than 6,000 Greek white-collar professionals including doctors, lawyers and engineers protested in Athens on Thursday, waving their neckties as they marched against proposed pension reforms required by the country’s creditors.

"No to the law that dumps us in the street," read one of the banners of the workers who joined in what the Greek media has dubbed the "Necktie Revolution". Police estimated the crowd at 6,000-strong.

Greece’s leftist government recently proposed reducing the highest pension benefits and increasing social security contributions by both employers and staff.

"According to this proposed law, 84 percent of our earnings will go to taxes and other contributions (to the state)," said a 35-year-old engineer who gave his name as Haris.

"If this law goes through I will be forced to leave Greece and find work abroad," he said.

Greece must save 1.8 billion euros from state spending on pensions under a three-year bailout signed with the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund in July.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ government has announced plans to lower the maximum pension to 2,300 euros ($2,500) a month from 2,700 euros currently, and introduce a new minimum guaranteed basic pension of 384 euros.

The necktie professionals are not the only ones staging demonstrations against the reforms.

Greek farmers and sailors have also joined the wave of protests and unions have announced a general strike – the third in as many months – for February 4.

Sailors launched a two-day strike on Wednesday while farmers on Thursday continued to mass their tractors alongside national highways, intermittently blocking traffic.

In the face of these mass protests, Labor Minister George Katrougalos raised the possibility of reconsidering lowering the contributions of professionals and the self-employed, at least for a transitional period.

Tsipras meanwhile hopes next month to push the pension reform through parliament, where his government has a narrow majority of 153 out of 300 lawmakers. [AFP]