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Greek workers protest reforms intended to boost investment

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Greek workers protest reforms intended to boost investment
Municipal workers stand outside the Interior Ministry during a protest against planned reforms affecting their sector in Athens Greece, October 24, 2019. REUTERS/Costas Baltas   -   Copyright  COSTAS BALTAS(Reuters)
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ATHENS (Reuters) – Greek garbage collectors marched peacefully through Athens on Thursday to protest the new conservative government’s plans to further outsource state services.

Hundreds of state workers waving orange flags and chanting “No to the sell-off of services!” rallied outside parliament as lawmakers debated a 777-page bill submitted by the government, which it says will make Greece more business-friendly.

Lawmakers are expected to vote on the bill later on Thursday.

The government, which has 158 deputies in the 300-seat parliament, says the bill is aimed at curtailing red tape to attract more investment, create jobs and spur growth after a multi-year financial crisis.

Outsourcing waste collection and cleaning services is common practice in other European countries, ministers have said.

But workers, fearing job cuts, accuse the ruling conservatives of allowing the privatisation of garbage collection, cleaning and gardening. They also believe that the reforms will lead to higher municipal levies.

Public-sector unions were planning more protests in the evening against labour reforms included in the bill, which they say are hurting labour rights and weakening wage bargaining.

After output fell by nearly a quarter during the crisis and unpopular reforms were implemented, Greece’s economy has been growing in recent years. The country exited its third bailout programme in 2018, although its debt-to-gross domestic product ratio is still the highest in the euro zone.

Greece’s progress is still being monitored by its foreign lenders, the European Union and the International Monetary Fund

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has promised pro-business reforms and tax cuts to help growth pick up through foreign investment. He also wants to negotiate lower annual fiscal targets with European lenders from 2021, a plan his leftist predecessor, Alexis Tsipras, also pursued, despite agreeing on a 40-year path in exchange for debt relief.

“Having experienced a traumatic 10-year crisis, we now have the knowledge and the will,” Mitsotakis said during a conference on Wednesday.

On Thursday, he met bankers to discuss the issue of non-performing loans burdening Greek banks.

(Reporting by Angeliki Koutantou; Writing by Renee Maltezou)

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