Greece’s two biggest trade unions staged a 24-hour strike on Wednesday to protest against fresh wage reductions and a first round of job cuts in the overstaffed public sector.
The walkout by members of Adedy, the civil service union, and GSEE, an umbrella federation dominated by public sector workers, shut down flights at Athens international airport and halted train and ferry services - although the capital’s metro system was operating normally.
Workers at state-controlled companies slated for privatization, including the state electricity utility, the lottery and the port authorities of Piraeus and Thessaloniki, also joined the strike.
Stathis Anestis, the Adedy spokesman, described looming job cuts as “a barbaric new policy that will only make the recession longer.”
Thousands of protesters were expected to attend a meeting in the centre of Athens followed by a march to parliament.
The strike caps a week of intermittent protests by civil servants, including sit-ins at government ministries and an undeclared work-to-rule at more than 100 state entities due to be merged or closed under the terms of Greece’s bail-out by the European Union and International Monetary Fund.
The bail-out plan agreed in July in return for another €109-billion of funding calls for cutting 150,000 public sector jobs by 2014. The cuts would mainly affect contract workers in the civil service and employees of state-controlled corporations.
Evangelos Venizelos, finance minister, defended the cuts on Tuesday, saying opinion polls showed a majority of Greeks believe the public sector is overstaffed and inefficient.
But other ministers in the socialist government have voiced concern that international lenders are imposing excessive austerity on Greece, citing EU-IMF projections of a 15 percentage point contraction in output between 2009 and 2012, and unemployment above 16 per cent next year.
“The measures threaten to reduce living standard to an unprecedented level for a western European country, one that is not acceptable,” Haris Kastanides, the justice minister, said in a Greek radio interview.