ATHENS Dec 8 Greeks went on strike on Thursday
to protest planned labour reforms and painful austerity cuts
demanded by the country's European Union and International
Monetary Fund lenders as part of a crucial bailout review.
Passenger ships remained docked at ports, city transport was
disrupted and local administration offices shut down as workers
joined the 24-hour nationwide walkout called by the country's
largest private and public sector unions, GSEE and ADEDY.
"The burden we carry is already unbearable," said GSEE in a
statement, calling lenders' demands "irrational".
"The downturn must finally end," its rally poster read.
Workers and pensioners will march in central Athens later in
the day. Turnout in street protests has been low since Greece
signed up to a third international bailout in July 2015 after
tough negotiations that almost forced it out of the euro zone.
Euro zone finance ministers said on Monday that Athens and
its lenders needed to speed up the review which has hit a snag
on labour reforms, including liberalising mass layoffs and
reviving collective bargaining between employers and unions.
Energy reforms and measures to plug a projected fiscal gap
in 2018, when Greece's bailout programme expires, are also among
thorny issues in the review which may resume next week.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras hopes a deal can be reached by
the end of the year for the country's bonds to be included in
the European Central Bank's bond buying programme by March 2017.
This would help Greece return to markets next year, for the
first time since 2014, and eventually reduce its dependence on
bailout loans. Athens has rejected its creditors' demands for
more austerity measures beyond 2018.
On Monday, the euro zone granted Greece short-term debt
relief, which was hailed as a success by the leftist-led
government that has been sagging in polls for months.
But the news did not impress austerity-hit Greeks, who have
lost almost a third of their income since the crisis started in
2009. Thousands have lost their jobs amid a deep recession.
Unemployment in September stood at 23.4 percent.
In parliament, lawmakers debated more tax hikes and spending
cuts as part of next year's budget, which projects the economy
will grow by 2.7 percent and attain a 2 percent of GDP primary
surplus - excluding debt servicing costs.
Parliament is expected to vote on the budget on Saturday.
(Reporting by Renee Maltezou; editing by Ralph Boulton)