Hot Autumn in Greece: New Protests – International Community Plays Down Greek Default

Athens, 22 Sept 2011: Today the two largest trade unions have called for a new general strike in Greece over the implementation of painful reforms to reduce the Greek debt and avoid default.

After a seven hour meeting on Tuesday, the cabinet of Prime Minister Giorgos Papandreu made an another attempt to convince the EU-troika about Greece’s determination to undertake deficit cutting measures before the next loan installment. The Greek government decided the tax-free threshold on income should drop from €8,000 to €5,000, it also approved a unified pay structure for the public sector, whose details were not announced.

The government will not touch state pensions below €1,200 but anybody in retirement earning above that threshold will see the extra amount reduced by 20 percent. Any pensioners under 55 will have anything they earn above €1,000  reduced by 40 percent.

Some 30,000 public sector workers will be placed in a ‘labor reserve’ by the end of the year, according to the plans announced. This means they will earn a reduced salary of 60% for up to a year, before the government has the right to sack or re-employ them.

The government also approved several structural reforms and privatization measures but no details were given.

Meanwhile, the signals for a new storm of protests have already sounded vociferously. There was no public transport or taxi operating on Wednesday as workers staged a 24-hour strike to protest government reforms. The country’s two main labor unions, the civil servants’ ADEDY and the General Confederation of Greek Labor (GSEE), called two 24-hour general strikes for 5 and 19 Oct to protest the government’s ongoing austerity drive.

Taxi drivers, who are protesting the opening of their profession to competition, decided to stage their own walkout yesterday, compounding the woes of commuters.

Secondary school teachers protest cutbacks join a 24-hour strike and their primary school counterparts hold rolling work stoppages.

Employees staged sit-ins at several government buildings including those of the Health and Finance ministries.

Suspiciously the international community tries to play down the planned default scenario.

The International Monetary Fund “is absolutely not discussing and will not discuss a controlled default of Greece, or an exit of the country from the Euro,” the organization’s financial counselor and director of the Monetary and Capital Markets Department, Jose Vinals, told Skai TV during an interview.

Separately, France’s Budget Minister Valerie Pecresse said, Paris is  not considering a Greek default scenario and “is doing everything to save Greece.”

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said Greece was the focus of speculative pressures.

“As soon as the markets are convinced that the Greek problem has been permanently solved, the risk of contagion to other countries will be significantly reduced,” he said.

Greece marches boldly into a hot autumn,  its citizens protesting against any reform, apparently oblivious of the fact that tax payers in countries like Germany, Austria and the Netherlands have to pay billions for outdated Greek privileges.

(Sources: Ekathimerini, Middle East & Balkans News; 22 Sept 2011)


About Johann Brandstätter

Photojournalist and documentary photographer based in Bulgaria, working mainly in the Balkans and the Middle East. Conflicts & crises, social and environmental issues, defense & military, travel, transportation.
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