Greeks protest austerity as vote due

The legislation is seen by analysts as a major test of the government's ability to push through structural reforms.

Greeks protest austerity as vote due

Thousands of angry Greeks took to the streets on Thursday to urge lawmakers not to vote for a pension reform.

Some 12,000 people beating drums, blowing whistles and holding banners reading "If we don't react, we will starve" marched peacefully to parliament in protest against cuts in pension benefits and increasing the retirement age to 65 for all.

"It's horrible. We paid all our contributions and we are not going to get anything," said private sector worker Vaso Spoulou, 54.

She had filed a request for early retirement fearing the reform would cut her pension. "They are destroying everything," she said.

Flights to and from Greece were disrupted throughout the day, ferries remained tied up at ports, public transport was frozen and public offices were shut as unions staged their sixth 24-hour strike this year against austerity.

Lawmakers are expected to vote later on Thursday on the pension bill, a key condition for an austerity deal agreed with the European Union and the IMF in return for a 110-billion-euro ($138.6 billion) aid package.

The legislation is seen by analysts as a major test of the government's ability to push through structural reforms.

But many are angry with the prospect of working longer for a smaller pension, particularly women who can retire as young as 55. The reform comes on top of tens of billions of euros in austerity steps and is one of the most unpopular.

Lawmakers agreed in principle on the legislation in a preliminary vote late on Wednesday, in a sign that the bill was likely to pass during the final vote, despite grumblings in the ruling socialist party ranks.

Prime Minister George Papandreou told lawmakers that without this reform Greece's economy "would fall apart" under the weight of increasing pension costs. Unions vowed to continue protests.

"Workers will keep fighting even after the pension reform is voted on, to make sure it stays only on paper," Ilias Vrettakos, vice-president of public labour union ADEDY told Reuters.

The pension bill also incorporates clauses that make it easier and cheaper to fire workers and allow firms to pay young first hires less than the minimum wage.

"Young people who have just started working have no hope," said 24-year old unemployed protester Melina Panagiotidou.

Greece's private and public sector unions represent about 2.5 million workers, or half the country's workforce. Their repeated strikes and protests have hit tourism, a vital sector for the Mediterranean country.

About 82 flights were cancelled and 109 rescheduled due to the latest disruptions, airport officials said.

Parliament workers also joined the strike. It was not immediately clear how this would affect the voting process.


Reuters

Güncelleme Tarihi: 09 Temmuz 2010, 11:08

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