PM stands firm as strikes called

As tax collectors and customs officers launched a two-day walkout yesterday in protest at the government’s austerity measures and the General Confederation of Greek Labor (GSEE) confirmed that its members would strike on February 24, Prime Minister George Papandreou stressed that the planned reforms were unavoidable. «We are determined to make these changes and have asked everyone to contribute to our efforts,» Papandreou said from Delhi, where he is attending a conference on sustainable development. But he stressed that «the burden will not fall on the average citizen, the worker.» The country’s main labor union, GSEE, was unmoved by the premier’s appeals and called on workers to join a 24-hour strike on February 24. GSEE Chairman Yiannis Panagopoulos accused the government of breaking its promise to leave the retirement age limit, currently 65 for men and 60 for women, untouched. The premier called for the increase, along with a wage freeze for public sector employees and an increase in fuel tax, during a televised speech earlier this week. The measures were also condemned by the main civil servants’ union ADEDY which has called a strike for February 10. According to ADEDY’s chairman, Spyros Papaspyros, the reforms will lead to wage cuts of 7 to 15 percent for public sector workers. Civil servants with the highest salaries stand to see their monthly wages slashed by between 400 and 700 euros, Papaspyros said. The customs officers’ strike, which continues today, is expected to hamper the flow of imports, already hindered by farmers’ blockades at the border. Lines of trucks were already forming at border crossings yesterday.

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