The temple of the Parthenon is illuminated at the Acropolis
hill in Athens. REUTERS/John Kolesidis
Greece's government has presented a new austerity package
to parliament as a week of strikes and protests kicked off over
proposals that lawmakers must approve if the country is to
secure more aid and stave off bankruptcy.
Parliament is expected to vote on Prime Minister Antonis
Samaras's 13.5 billion euros package of cost cuts and tax
hikes on Wednesday along with measures making it easier for
firms to hire and fire workers.
Despite public exasperation at four years of belt-tightening
that has helped wipe out a fifth of the economy and leave a
quarter of Greeks jobless, the package and a tough budget
slated for a vote on Sunday are expected to scrape through
Greece's powerful main public and private sector unions will
launch a 48 hour strike against the legislation on Tuesday
and plan marches in the centre of Athens. Journalists,
doctors, transport workers and shopkeepers also planned
Approval of the reforms and the passage of the 2013 budget
are crucial to unlocking 31.5 billion euros in aid from an
International Monetary Fund and European Union bailout that
has been on hold for months.
"These will be the last cuts in wages and pensions," Samaras
said in a speech aimed at galvanising the members of his
centre-right New Democracy party.
"We promised to avert the country's exit from the euro and
this is what we are doing. We have given absolute priority to
this because if we do not achieve this everything else will
Without the aid, Greece will not be able to redeem a
5-billion euro treasury bill falling due on November 16. The
bulk of the new aid tranche, some 25 billion euros, is
earmarked to recapitalise Greece's struggling banks and
kick-start moribund lending, a prerequisite to climbing out
But union leaders say the measures will simply deepen an
economic contraction expected to run into next year.
"Our labour action next week will be part of efforts to avert
policies that will sink the country deeper into recession and
destroy the fabric of society," Yannis Panagopoulos, head of
the GSEE private sector umbrella union, told Reuters.
The capital's 14,000 taxi drivers are on strike and office
workers complained of long commutes due to a halt on the
city's metro, tram and city trains, which serve 500,000
people a day.
Protests will intensify on Tuesday, ratcheting up pressure on
coalition deputies whose parties have slid in polls since a
June election in the Mediterranean country of 10 million.
On Friday, a poll showed New Democracy's support had fallen
to 22 percent, from 30 percent in the June election. Its
Socialist PASOK partner had fallen to 7 percent, down from
12.3 percent according to the PULSE survey.
"Everything is black and it will only get worse. They have
exterminated us. They have turned us into prisoners," said
Eleni Tatsou, 38, who works in a kebab shop in central
"I haven't been paid for eight months, but I know nothing
will change if I quit, so I'm waiting. Maybe I'll get paid
one day. Maybe a miracle will happen."
The smallest party in the ruling coalition, the Democratic
Left, has pledged to stay in government but rejects the plans
to cut wages and severance payments and scrap automatic wage
hikes, saying they will devastate workers who have borne the
brunt of the crisis.
"We will not vote in favour of these measures," Dimitris
Hatzisokratis, a Democratic Left spokesman, told Reuters.
"But we will support the budget, which means we are giving
our vote of confidence to this government."
PASOK is struggling to shore up support for the measures
after one of its deputies quit on Thursday in the wake of a
narrow victory in pushing through a privatisation bill also
demanded by the lenders, cutting PASOK's numbers to 32 seats.
At least five of those members have said they may not back
the reforms. Without them, New Democracy and PASOK's
remaining members are expected to muster around 154 of
parliament's 300 votes, a move analysts say is vital to the
government's survival and Greece avoiding insolvency later
"The measures will pass, but the majority will be so slim
that it will raise questions over the government's future
viability," said Costas Panagopoulos, head of Alco pollsters.
Greece is hoping the "troika" of the IMF, European Commission
and European Central Bank lenders extend a deadline to
achieve a primary budget surplus of 4.5 percent, a measure of
public finances minus debt maintenance costs.
That would give the battered economy breathing room, but the
government has said it would shrink more than forecast in
2013 and debt would peak at 192 percent of GDP in 2014, 10
percentage points higher than earlier forecast.
That has increased the prospect of another round of debt
restructuring, a source of conflict between the IMF and
Greece's biggest EU creditor Germany who both privately say
the Greek debt trajectory is unsustainable.