Greek rail workers strike against privatisation

Thu Jun 10, 2010 7:31am EDT

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* First strike since privatisation scheme was launched

* Workers fear cancelled routes

* State railway loses 1 billion euros annually

By Renee Maltezou and Yiorgos Karahalis

ATHENS, June 10 (Reuters) - Greek rail workers walked off the job on Thursday to protest against government plans to sell a 49 percent stake in loss-making state railway OSE, the first strike triggered by a new three-year privatisation programme.

Greece said last week it would sell stakes in some of its struggling state-run firms to free up competition and meet the conditions of a multibillion euro EU/IMF aid deal, which calls for revenue of 3 billion euros from privatisations by 2013. [ID:nLDE65209F]

The government's privatisation plan would only go a small way to help pay off Greece's 310 billion euro ($373.2 billion) debt, analysts say, but seeing it through would send a signal that the cash-strapped country is serious about economic reform.

The 24-hour strike halted trains in stations across Greece on Thursday. About 300 rail workers rallied outside the infrastructure ministry in Athens holding banners reading "Say No to the privatisation" and "Stop the lay-offs".

"We won't let them cancel any route. We are here to fight those who drink our blood and our sweat," said Nikos Koutsoukis, head of the Greek railway union. "We won't let them put the gravestone on (OSE's) grave they've dug with their own hands."

OSE has losses of about 1 billion euros a year and estimated debts of some 10 billion euros. The ruling Socialists will try to sweeten the OSE stake sale by pulling loss-making routes, evaluating staff and restructuring the company.

Labour unions have staged repeated strikes and protests this year against austerity steps such as salary cuts, tax hikes and a pension reform, threatening to hinder the government's effort to exit a huge debt crisis that has rocked the euro zone.

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