Protesting Greek municipal workers occupy town halls

ATHENS Thu Nov 22, 2012 7:18am EST

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ATHENS (Reuters) - Greek municipal workers occupied hundreds of town halls across the country for a fifth day on Thursday to protest against public sector layoffs demanded by European Union and International Monetary Fund lenders.

Greece has promised the lenders it will revamp its bloated public sector by putting as many as 27,000 workers into a layoff scheme. City and local workers are expected to be among the first to be laid off under the plan.

Their protests have intensified since the Greek government passed a package of austerity measures earlier this month, with workers this week staging daily sit-ins at more than two thirds of the country's 330 city halls and several ministries.

The sit-ins and work stoppages have disrupted public services and left garbage piling up in some districts of Athens.

About 3,000 municipal workers marched in central Athens on Thursday chanting "Their measures - our funeral" and holding black balloons. They carried a coffin and three wreaths in a symbolic protest against what they called the "the elimination of the public sector".

"They think of us as numbers and not as people. I am afraid I won't be able to support my family and give my five-year-old child all I should as a mother," Maria Kavvadia, who has been working for the Athens municipality for 12 years, told state TV.

More than 40,000 clerks, nursery school teachers, gardeners, garbage collectors, policemen and grave diggers are employed in municipalities across the country.

Anger has been rising among Greeks over repeated rounds of austerity measures including wage and pension cuts demanded by lenders as the price for aid to avert bankruptcy.

The European commissioner for economic affairs, Olli Rehn, said on Thursday Greece had taken all the steps necessary to secure its next tranche of aid and euro zone finance ministers should be able to sign off definitively on the assistance on Monday.

Data released on Thursday showed household disposable income shrank by about 14 percent in the second quarter from the same period in 2011 as wages dropped by 15 percent and taxes soared by 37 percent.

Ministry employees have also held similar protests, blocking the entrance of the agriculture ministry daily since last week. Dozens of health ministry employees protesting against the firing of 68 employees occupied the ministry on Monday.

A week ago, municipal workers stormed a building where Greek and German officials were meeting in the northern city of Thessaloniki and pelted a German diplomat with water bottles.

Many municipalities and public sector departments have also refused to submit lists to the government with the names of employees earmarked for possible dismissal under the layoff scheme.

"We won't give them the lists no matter what," said Vassilis Polymeropoulos, the head of the Athens municipal workers' union. "We are determined to continue our protests."

(Reporting by Renee Maltezou and Tatiana Fragou, editing by Deepa Babington and Rosalind Russell)

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