Premier sets out priorities

Prime Minister George Papandreou stressed yesterday that his government’s top priority remained the resuscitation of the country’s beleaguered economy but he said that planned changes to labor relations and pension reform, which have provoked an outcry by labor unions and opposition parties, would be discussed with «all sides» before they are submitted in Parliament. Unconvinced, the General Confederation of Greek Labor (GSEE) and the main civil servants’ union ADEDY called a general strike for June 29 to protest the measures, which they described as «unfair and a violation of the constitution.» The proposed changes to labor relations, outlined in a presidential decree made public on Wednesday by Labor and Social Insurance Minister Andreas Loverdos, would make it easier for employers to make staff redundant and change the way that settlements to dismiss employees are paid. Addressing reporters on the sidelines of a European Union summit in Brussels yesterday, Papandreou said his government would do what it could to make concessions to workers but noted that a memorandum Greece has signed with the EU, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank to secure a 110-billion-euro loan left it little room for maneuver. «Within the framework of the memorandum, efforts will be made to exhaust dialogue with social partners,» Papandreou said. But he emphasized that the reason Greece had signed the pact was to avoid bankruptcy and noted that this should remain the country’s primary goal. «We have a huge responsibility to save the economy and that is what we are doing,» he said. Earlier in the day, members of the EU, IMF and ECB visiting Athens to check the government’s progress in implementing austerity measures aimed at plugging a gaping deficit issued a statement saying the country was «on the right track.» The optimism of Papandreou and the inspectors was not shared by opposition parties. New Democracy spokesman Panos Panayiotopoulos criticized the premier for «sweet talk that is disrespectful to the Greek people.» Communist Party (KKE) leader Aleka Papariga was more outspoken, calling on citizens to «declare war on the war being waged on them by the government, EU and IMF.»