NEWS

Rehn optimistic as legislation is pushed through

Greece received words of encouragement yesterday from European Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn, as the Cabinet approved landmark legislation affecting labor rights and the status of employees at public enterprises, known as DEKOs. Coming just 48 hours after the visit of International Monetary Fund Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Rehn conveyed an equally optimistic message, saying the government had shown «strong will» in trying to restore fiscal balance, that Greece was «regaining the trust of its European partners» and that the European Union was likely to approve the extension to the period Athens will have to repay its 110-billion-euro loan package by seven-and-a-half years. Speaking at a conference, Rehn said that he was «certain» the extension would be approved next year and added that this move would not lead to Athens having to adopt more austerity measures. The commissioner also expressed confidence that Greece would meet the targets it has been set by the EU and the IMF next year. The Finn later addressed Parliament, where his optimism did not blunt attacks from MPs of all parties bar the Communists, who did not attend the session. Rehn had little time to answer questions about the lack of strong leadership in the EU and the confusion within the bloc about how to deal with the crisis. «It is increasingly a systemic crisis and therefore we need a systemic answer,» admitted Rehn. However, he angered deputies by claiming that he misses soccer practice on Sundays so he can deal with Greece’s economic problem. The Cabinet, meanwhile, gave the green light to legislation that will allow companies to bypass collective contracts and offer employees in-house pay deals. The details will be finalized with EU officials over the weekend but the law may allow firms to offer the minimum national wage for a certain period. Ministers also approved legislation that will cap monthly salaries at DEKOs at 4,000 euros gross and will force anyone earning more than 1,800 euros to take a 10 percent pay cut. Workers on all forms of public transport, who held a strike on Wednesday to protest these measures, are to stage two days of work stoppages. On Sunday, there will be no service between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. and on Monday the network will come to a halt between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. Sunday’s closure coincides with the special dispensation given to shops in central Athens to open ahead of the Christmas holidays. Transport workers will also be staging work stoppages on Wednesday as part of a 24-hour general strike. Unionists are due to meet this weekend to decide whether they should also hold strikes on Tuesday and Thursday.