ATHENS, March 4 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