ATHENS (AFP) – Thousands protested in recession-wracked Greece on Tuesday during a general strike against fresh austerity measures the government is imposing in order to receive billions of euros in EU-IMF loans.
At least 16,000 demonstrators turned out in Athens and 7,000 in second city Thessaloniki, according to police, as a controversial new law outlining the measures went before parliament for a Wednesday vote.
The bill is controversial mainly as it foresees the redeployment of thousands of civil servants, including municipal police, who have already been hit by sweeping pay and pension cuts over the past three years.
“I am now jobless, thanks to a piece of paper that has not even been voted into law,” railed Dionyssis Vassis, head of technical instructors at public vocational schools, one of 52 teaching professions to be axed as of next week.
“My name has already been posted online without shame, as if we were thieves or criminals,” he told AFP.
The strike halted trains and shut down public services across the country, kept hospital services to a minimum and disrupted a dozen domestic flights.
Crucially for the country’s tourism season, however, ferry services to the Greek islands were unaffected.
Municipal employees, who are going to be affected by the new measures, have been on strike since Monday.
The new bill, which parliament will start debating on Tuesday, is needed in order for Greece to start receiving 6.8 billion euros ($8.9 billion) of fresh aid that eurozone finance ministers agreed to release at a meeting last week.
It has already been approved by government deputies in a first reading.
If the bill passes as expected on Wednesday night, 4,200 civil servants — teachers, school wardens and municipal police who are to be integrated into the national force — will be placed under so-called redeployment.
They will receive 75 percent of their salary for an eight-month period, at the end of which, if they have not accepted a transfer to some other administrative department, they risk losing their jobs.
Leading union GSEE called the bill a “tombstone” for Greek workers.
Under the terms of its latest EU-IMF bailout deal agreed in 2012, Greece is expected to axe 4,000 state jobs and redeploy 25,000 civil servants overall by the end of the year.
Part of the layoffs quota came last month when the government shut down state broadcaster ERT, sacking over 2,600 staff.
“The government did this to see how people would react and then move to others,” said Ioanna Kavalierou, a former ERT staffer.
“I hope others will join the protests because if we do nothing today, there is no future,” she said during the Athens protest.
ERT’s shock shutdown nearly brought down the coalition government of conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, who saw one of his allies defect and is now governing with a reduced five-seat majority in parliament.
The debt-wracked country has had to enact a string of austerity measures over the past four years in return for multi-billion euro international bailouts to avoid default.
The measures are deeply unpopular in the country that recently entered a sixth straight year of recession and where unemployment has climbed to 27 percent, a level unseen in Greece’s modern history.
Youth unemployment stands at 64 percent.
The prime minister defended the latest measures in a Sunday interview.
“For every single person eventually let go, somebody else who is currently unemployed will be hired. Overall, in two years 15,000 civil servants out of 700,000 will leave, [which is] only two percent,” Samaras told Proto Thema weekly.