NEWS

Strike clogs city streets

With the vote on the government’s social security reforms bill expected in less than a week, strike action spread across different occupations yesterday as sidewalk rubbish piles grew higher. Traffic ground to a halt in Athens yesterday when striking rail workers shut down the train network, causing massive transport problems in the capital. Commuters took up to two-and-a-half hours to travel from suburbs such as Ilioupolis into the city center, a distance normally covered in about 30 minutes. Union groups are opposing a government reform bill which plans to merge about 150 funds into just a handful in a move aimed at making the pension system more viable. Lawyers, court officials, state engineers and bank workers also took part in the strike as people struggled with power cuts and piles of rubbish from separate protest action. Some municipalities resorted to dumping rubbish in illegal landfills located around the city in an attempt to clean streets in more sensitive areas, such as near hospitals and schools. Ministers and Athens Mayor Nikitas Kaklamanis called on the union to return to work and help avert a public health crisis. «It is an unacceptable sight, the strike is unjustified and workers must consider its impact on society,» said Interior Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos. Striking workers will meet on Sunday to decide whether they will extend their strike action despite the govenment having agreed to some of their demands – classifying their job as hazardous, which means a better benefits package. Government officials suggested that municipal workers may be politically motivated rather than opposed to the pension reforms per se. «The continuation of the strike leads each logically thinking person to the conclusion that this is a politically motivated strike, something which is unacceptable,» said alternate government spokesman Evangelos Antonaros. The reforms are expected to be voted in by lawmakers on Thursday, ending a debate due to start Tuesday. Private and public sector worker union groups GSEE and ADEDY will stage a general strike on Wednesday which is expected to shut down the country.