July 3, 2014 / 2:31 PM / 3 years ago

Greece faces power outages as electricity workers strike

3 Min Read

* Greek gov't wants to sell stake in power producer

* Liberalising energy sector is condition of bailout deal

* Power workers, leftist opposition vow to fight selloff

ATHENS, July 3 (Reuters) - Greece faced brief power outages on Thursday as electricity workers launched a series of 48-hour strikes against government plans to sell off part of the country's biggest power producer.

Districts of Athens and Thessaloniki, Greece's second biggest city, risked hour-long power cuts starting from noon after 13 power stations were taken off line late on Wednesday, though no major disruption had been reported so far.

Liberalising its energy sector is a key condition under Greece's 240-billion euro bailout by the European Union and International Monetary Fund but workers' unions say electricity is a public good that should remain under state control.

Lawmakers have begun debating a draft law allowing the government to privatise the Public Power Corporation (PPC) in 2015 by spinning off 30 percent of the firm.

"A company which for 60 years contributed to the growth of the Greek economy is being chopped up and sold off cheap," Stamatis Relias, the head of PPC's biggest trade union GENOP-DEH, which represents about 20,000 workers, told Reuters.

Greece's power distribution agency DEDDIE said outages could occur when consumption peaks in the evening. The national grid operator declared a state of emergency on Thursday, citing a significant reduction of power output.

Greece's main leftist opposition party Syriza, which opposes the country's bailout, has refused to back the bill, saying privatising the firm would push up prices and hurt Greeks whose incomes have been slashed during a six-year recession.

"We at Syriza radically oppose the privatisation of PPC because it is a crime," Syriza lawmaker Dimitris Stratoulis told Greek TV. "PPC is not the government's property, it's public property - it belongs to the Greek people".

The government, which has pinned its hopes for a recovery on a record number of tourists expected this year, has repeatedly said it will do "whatever it takes" to avert disruption at the height of summer, including forcing workers back to their jobs.

"The unions cannot decide for the country," government spokeswoman Sofia Voultepsi told Skai TV.

PPC filed a lawsuit against the workers on Thursday and a court ruling was expected on Friday, the firm said.

Greece owns 51 percent of PPC, which generates about two-thirds of the country's electricity output and controls almost 100 percent of the retail market.

PPC has an installed capacity of 12,800 megawatts and is also one of the world's biggest miners of lignite, which is used in power production and is seen as a heavy environmental polluter. (Reporting by Angeliki Koutantou; Editing by Karolina Tagaris and Gareth Jones)

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