Reforms battle heats up

Employment Minister Fani Palli-Petralia has accused union groups of abusing their power as Greece braces for the next wave of protest action this week. Union groups launched rolling strikes and work stoppages last week in opposition to government reforms of the ailing social security system that could go bust in as little as 15 years if changes are not introduced. Striking workers at the Public Power Corporation have forced the power company to cut energy in different parts of the country for up to five hours at a time in blackouts expected to continue this week. Meanwhile, rubbish piles on Athens streets have been continually growing higher as municipal employees walked off the job in opposition to the reforms. The minister, who is heading the controversial reforms process, admitted that workers have the right to strike but added that this cannot be used as a means of blackmail. «Some people cannot take advantage of the importance their sector, socially and economically, to pressure the government to give in to their demands,» she told Kathimerini in an interview. «I am only saying that they are abusing their power in order to be exempt from changes that affect everyone. This is deeply anti-social and anti-democratic behavior.» The conservative government has unveiled plans to merge pension funds and cut early retirement benefits as part of an effort to head off a financial crisis at Greek pension funds, set to worsen because of the country’s aging population. Both the public and private sector umbrella unions, GSEE and ADEDY, have also announced a three-hour work stoppage for tomorrow. Both umbrella unions have scheduled a 24-hour general strike for March 19, which is expected to bring transport and other public services to a complete halt.

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