More union pressure

While the government dealt with a fresh round of strike calls yesterday from unionists protesting its efforts to introduce structural reforms, it received a shot in the arm from a poll showing that most of the public backs the changes. The survey, conducted by VPRC for Skai Radio and Kathimerini, found that 58 percent of those questioned thought that public utility workers, who are guaranteed lifetime employment, should face the same rules as employees in the private sector. At the end of last month, the government agreed on a major deal to offer up to 6,000 workers at OTE telecom an early retirement deal in return for ending tenured jobs for future company employees. The government is keen to strike similar agreements with other public utilities to increase their attractiveness to investors and, ultimately, add to their market value. The policy provided much of the battleground for the clash between PASOK leader George Papandreou and Premier Costas Karamanlis in Parliament Wednesday, prompting Papandreou to call for a censure vote against Economy and Finance Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis. But Karamanlis responded by asking for a confidence vote in his New Democracy government, which will be held on Sunday. The government is expected to win the vote comfortably. The debate in the countdown to the vote is due to start at 6 p.m. today. The poll, which was published yesterday, indicates that the mood of the public has shifted toward supporting labor reforms. It also means bad news for Papandreou: The majority of PASOK voters also want a change in the working regulations at public utilities. But the government faces strong opposition from unionists, with the main civil service union ADEDY calling a 24-hour strike for next Thursday over wage demands and fears that the government may attempt to amend the constitution and put an end to permanent jobs in the public sector. Bank workers will strike on the same day in protest over pension reforms. The General Confederation of Greek Labor (GSEE), the country’s largest umbrella union, is also planning to join in.

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