Greece makes austerity push
Unions to protest measures, government’s popularity falls
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.