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Greeks march over reform plans of new government

Greeks march over reform plans of new government
A passenger sits next to a closed ticket booth during a 24-hour general strike at the port of Piraeus, Greece, October 2, 2019. REUTERS/Costas Baltas -
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COSTAS BALTAS(Reuters)
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By Renee Maltezou

ATHENS (Reuters) – Greek private sector workers walked off the job on Wednesday and marched through the streets of Athens to protest against labour reforms planned by the new conservative government which they say will weaken unions and curb their right to strike.

Ships stayed docked in port, trains went out of service and bank services were disrupted as part of the 24-hour strike, the second such walkout nationwide within a week.

Public sector unions staged a strike against labour reforms last week and stopped work for a few hours on Wednesday.

Thousands of teachers, media and bank employees, port and municipal workers, pensioners and students marched peacefully to parliament around midday.

They chanted “Hands off strikes, hands off unions!” and “They won’t stop unless you stop them!”

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ government plans to change some ground rules on how strikes can be declared, allow some changes to collective wage pacts and set up a registry for unions, which in turn accuse the government of trying to control or weaken them.

Mitsotakis said the unionists who called the strike were removed from reality, and said government proposals were designed to make decision-making on industrial action more inclusive.

“Once again, the few on strike are inconveniencing the many,” Mitsotakis wrote on a Facebook post.

Unionists believe the reforms will not help reduce unemployment, at about 17 percent the highest in the euro zone, or bring the amount of economic growth the government has promised. The bill is expected to be voted on this month.

“Those provisions must be withdrawn now,” said GSEE, the country’s largest labour union, which represents about 2.5 million workers.

In recent years turnout in rallies has been low, mainly due to fatigue after years of crisis that led to three international bailouts in exchange for pension and wage cuts, tax hikes and unpopular labour reforms.

Some of the demonstrators on Wednesday protested against planned privatisations and the impact of bailout austerity. “We want jobs, not unemployment!”, read one banner.

Greece exited its third bailout programme in 2018, two years after returning to growth.

Its fiscal and reform progress is still being monitored by its lenders, including targets of primary surpluses for the next 40 years.

The International Monetary Fund has called for further flexibility in the country’s labour market and offering more options to employers to cut costs.

Mitsotakis’ government has promised to negotiate a lowering of fiscal targets with European lenders and wants to distribute a retirement bonus to pensioners next year, as his leftist predecessor did before losing the elections in July.

He has also pledged to increase net wages by reducing social security contributions and ease taxation to attract investors.

(Reporting by Renee Maltezou; Editing by Clarence Fernandez & Kim Coghill)

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