Tens of thousands of Greek civil servants will strike on Thursday to protest against austerity measures and press the government not to agree to further cuts as it discusses an aid package with the EU and IMF.
Doctors, nurses, teachers, tax officials and others will stop work, paralysing public services, while thousands are expected to march to parliament at midday as European and IMF officials meet for talks that could lead to a financial bailout.
They will protest against European Union-backed measures including public wage cuts, a pensions freeze and tax hikes taken by the government to try to pull Greece out of a severe fiscal crisis that has shaken markets worldwide.
“These blood-thirsty measures won’t help Greece exit the crisis. A tragic period begins,” said Ilias Iliopoulos, secretary general of public sector union ADEDY, which represents half a million workers.
Many in Greece fear strings attached to the 40-45 billion euro aid package, if the cash-strapped nation decides to tap it, will hit living standards in a country where one in five lives below the poverty threshold, according to EU data.
“With the IMF’s involvement the situation will become a lot worse,” Iliopoulos told Reuters. “They will ask for more measures, more cuts, they will raise retirement age limits, they will cut pensions and fire people.”
The socialist government, which has been pressured by markets and EU policymakers for months to tidy up its finances, has vowed to go ahead with the reforms it has announced over the past months but also said there would be no additional austerity measures this year.
Participation in the protest — the fourth nationwide strike organised by the public sector union this year — will be closely watched by investors and policymakers, as concerns grow over whether Greece will honour its plan to slash its double digit budget deficit to under 3 percent of GDP in 2012.
Opposition to the measures has so far been relatively muted, although polls show most Greeks oppose the measures. Violence has been much less frequent than in 2008 riots that paralyzed Athens for weeks after the police killing of a teenager.
Worries about a surge in unemployment highlight the delicate balance Athens needs to strike in meeting international demands for cutbacks and maintaining enough support at home to ensure it can implement the reforms.
On Wednesday, the IMF said unemployment would rise to 13 percent in 2011, and Greece would be the only euro zone country to see its economy contract next year with a 1.1 percent drop.
Hundreds of dockworkers disrupted passenger boat traffic at Greece’s largest port Piraeus on Wednesday, part of another strike called for by communist trade union PAME.
Air traffic controllers have decided not to strike on Thursday, saying they did not want to further burden travellers and aggravate flight disruptions caused by the cloud of volcanic ash that caused havoc this week across Europe.
The market showed its impatience with the uncertainty about how Greece will finance its debt on Wednesday, driving the yield on the 10-year bond to 8.4 percent, the highest since at least 1999, a signal of growing doubt over Greece’s solvency.
(Additional reporting by Harry Papachristou; Editing by Janet Lawrence)