Greek unions in new strike call against austerity

ATHENS, March 4 Thu Mar 4, 2010 6:14am EST

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ATHENS, March 4 (Reuters) - Greece's main private and public sector labour unions called a 3-hour work stoppage for Friday, stepping up opposition to new austerity measures designed to stem a debt crisis that has shaken the euro zone.

About 70 communist trade unionists occupied the finance ministry on Thursday, preventing workers from entering the building, police said, in the latest protest action against pay cuts and a pensions freeze ordered by the Socialist government.

The two main unions, which represent 2.5 million workers or half of Greece's workforce, say extra public sector wage cuts and tax hikes announced on Wednesday to tackle a 300 billion euro ($410 billion) debt mountain will only hurt the poor.

"The measures are cruel, unjust and one-sided. The burden is not equally shared," Stathis Anestis, spokesman for the private sector GSEE union, said on Thursday.

"There is a great risk of an even deeper recession and a significant rise in the unemployment rate."

Battling public debts greater than annual national ecoomic output of 240 billion euros, the government announced a third wave of austerity measures worth 4.8 billion euros on Wednesday to ensure it meets key fiscal targets this year.

The measures included cuts to civil servants' holiday bonuses and raising VAT by 2 percentage points. [ID:nLDE6220NA]

GSEE and its sister public sector union ADEDY urged workers to strike from 1000 GMT on Friday and rally outside parliament.

ADEDY has already called a 24-hour stoppage for March 16.

Opposition to austerity measures has so far been relatively muted for a country with a strong tradition of street protest that descended into riots in December 2008 triggered by the police killing of a teenager.

Opinion polls conducted before the latest set of cuts showed more than half of those surveyed back government efforts to stem the crisis, but the unions are stepping up pressure with more protests and strikes.

Other groups launched protests on Thursday. Former Olympic Air employees blocked a major central Athens avenue and several groups ranging from anarchists to hotel workers planned protests in central Athens later in the day, a police official said.

The Communist PAME union has also called for rallies in Athens and other cities across the country later on Thursday.

A general strike crippled transport and public services on Feb. 24 but it failed to bring the country to a standstill or deter the government from pressing ahead with further reforms.

(for a wrapup on the Greek crisis, click on [LDE6230PC]))

(Reporting by Angeliki Koutantou; Additional reporting by Tatiana Fragou; Writing by Ingrid Melander, editing by Paul Taylor)

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