PM rebuffs pay talk

As strike action over pay in the education sector continues to fuel tension with the government, Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis said yesterday that he will not risk the future of the economy by offering economic handouts. Karamanlis told a gathering of his government’s parliamentary members that he refuses to take steps that will put at risk the balance of state finances. «Governments are judged by the decisions they are called to make when the country is at a vital economic crossroads,» he said. «We will not harm the future of all of us and the sacrifices we have made so that we become likable for a while,» he added. Political analysts pointed out that Karamanlis’s firm stance comes at a crucial time, given the upcoming municipal elections on October 15. Protest action in the education sector spread earlier this week after primary and preschool teachers shut down schools for a third week over a pay dispute. Teachers, seeking a pay hike of about 45 percent for starting salaries, were joined by their high school counterparts on Monday and Tuesday. The ruling conservatives have insisted that they will not agree to the pay demands. Union groups have also been angered by the government’s refusal to meet with them. In a demonstration scheduled to be held today in central Athens, teachers will also be supported by the Civil Servants’ Union (ADEDY) and the Federation of Bank Employees’ Unions (OTOE). In a move that clearly backs educators, PASOK leader George Papandreou accused the government of only taking care of its friends. «They have no money for the teachers but they have money for their own (people) and their interests,» he said. Papandreou was referring to recent corruption allegations involving a Competition Commission official who was investigating price-fixing practices among dairy firms. The conservative government has placed fighting corruption at the top of its priority list as polls show that bribery in the public sector is considered to be one of Greece’s biggest problems.