July 1, 2010 / 4:53 PM / in 7 years

Greek unions set anti-austerity strike for July 8

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece’s main labour unions called a 24-hour strike for July 8 on Thursday in protest against sweeping pension reforms and other austerity measures to help end a debt crisis.

<p>Protesters gesture in front of the Greek parliament during a rally against government austerity measures in Athens June 29, 2010. REUTERS/John Kolesidis</p>

It will be the sixth joint stoppage this year by Greece’s main public and private sector unions, which together represent about 2.5 million workers, or half the Greek workforce.

Private sector union GSEE said the strike would coincide with a vote in parliament on pension reform, part of a package agreed by the socialist government in return for a 110 billion euro (£89 billion) bailout by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.

“GSEE rejects the pension bill and the labour reforms,” it said in a statement, saying it would refuse “any regulation which will result once again in unfair and unbearable measures for workers and pensioners.”

The main public sector union, ADEDY, will also take part, Ilias Iliopoulos, its general secretary, told Reuters. The unions had previously announced plans for a strike in July but had not fixed a date.

Turnout at rallies on strike days has fallen -- about 12,000 people marched in Athens in the last joint stoppage on June 29, against 50,000 in the biggest rally on May 5, when three people died in the fire-bombing of an Athens bank.

Weariness with strikes, summer heat and resignation to austerity may be among the factors for the lower turnout, analysts say.

RETIREMENT

The pension reform raises the number of years needed to qualify for a pension and ups the retirement age for women to 65 from 60, matching the age for men. It also scraps a string of early retirement deals.

The socialist government controls 157 of 300 seats in parliament and is expected to pass the reform despite some party opposition. Without reform, pension costs are set to soar -- Greece’s debts already total 133.3 percent of GDP.

Separately, Greece’s retail businesses are to grant workers on Friday a 1 percent pay rise in the first wage deal since Athens agreed the emergency EU/IMF loans in May.

“We will sign the deal tomorrow, it will be for at least two years,” Vassilis Korkidis, chairman of trade association ESEE, told Reuters. The rise is far below annual inflation which hit a 13-year high at 5.4 percent in May.

The agreement will cover 780,000 employees, nearly half of Greece’s private sector employees. Korkidis said he expected employers and umbrella trade unions to agree to a nationwide wage deal along similar lines next week.

“This would be an increase in line with euro zone inflation,” he said. Consumer prices in the 16 countries sharing the euro stood at 1.6 percent in May.

Reporting by Angeliki Koutantou, Renee Maltezou and Harry Papachristou, writing by Alister Doyle; Editing by Janet Lawrence

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