ATHENS – Most public services in Greece have been brought to a halt on Wednesday, and transport networks paralysed, by a major strike against government austerity measures, the BBC informs. A four-hour strike by air traffic controllers badly disrupted flights in a country heavily dependent on tourism. Many Greeks are angry over job losses, tax hikes and pension and wage cuts, enforced by the government to meet the terms of an international bail-out. But there is concern that the bail-out has not worked. Wednesday’s one-day strike was called by the private sector union GSEE and the public sector union ADEDY.
A large number of private sector workers had joined the strike. “We strongly protest against the unfair and harsh policies that have pushed up unemployment, widen false employment and trample on worker rights,” said the GSEE. Unions said hospitals operated with skeleton staff only, schools were closed, and all train and ferry services were being suspended. Some banks were shut, while others were open but kept their shutters half-rolled down, fearing any violence that might erupt during the day. Last May, three bank workers died in a petrol bomb attack during anti-austerity demonstrations. Despite its spending cuts, the government is failing to close its budget deficit as quickly as hoped – partly because the fiscal restructuring programme has compounded a recession, while unemployment has reached about 15 per cent. That has sapped market confidence that Greece will be able to avoid defaulting on its debts.
There is speculation that the government may need a further international loan, so that it does not need to raise capital on the markets, where it would face punishingly high interest rates. The European Union’s Economic Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn said on Tuesday that talk of a new rescue package was “premature”.
A European Union mission is in Athens this week to review Greece’s progress on meeting the terms of the 110 bln euros joint EU-IMF emergency bail-out agreed last year. It has another two years to run and the mission’s assessment will be key to deciding whether Athens will be offered better terms on the loans.