Greece makes aus­ter­ity push

Unions to protest mea­sures, gov­ern­ment’s pop­u­lar­ity falls

The Pak Banker - - Front Page -

ATHENS

Greece’s gov­ern­ment presents a new aus­ter­ity pack­age to par­lia­ment on Tues­day, fac­ing a week of strikes and protests over pro­pos­als which must win law­mak­ers’ ap­proval if the coun­try is to se­cure more aid and stave off bank­ruptcy.

Par­lia­ment is expected to vote on Prime Min­is­ter An­to­nis Sa­ma­ras’s pack­age of 13.5 bil­lion eu­ros (Dh62 bil­lion) in 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 par­lia­ment.

Greece’s pow­er­ful main pub­lic and pri­vate sec­tor unions will launch a 48-hour strike against the leg­is­la­tion on Tues­day and plan marches in Athens’ city cen­tre. Jour­nal­ists, doc­tors, trans­port work­ers and shop­keep­ers are also plan­ning stop­pages.

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 since the sum­mer.

“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 be mean­ing­less.”

With­out the aid, Greece will not be able to re­deem a five-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 of re­ces­sion.

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 me­dia. Athens’ 14,000 taxi driv­ers are on strike and of­fice work­ers com­plained of long com­mutes due to a stop­page 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 per cent, from 30 per cent in the June elec­tion. Its So­cial­ist PASOK part­ner had fallen to 7 per cent, down from 12.3 per cent ac­cord­ing to the PULSE sur­vey. “Ev­ery­thing is black and it will only get worse. They have ex­ter­mi­nated us.

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