* Austerity, labour reform bill go to parliament on Monday
* Measures expected to pass in tight Wednesday vote
* Budget vote, also needed for new aid, expected Sunday
* Unions to protest against measures
* Government's popularity falls
By Renee Maltezou and Lefteris Papadimas
ATHENS, Nov 5 Greece's government presented a
new austerity package to parliament on Monday as a week of
strikes and protests kicked off over proposals that lawmakers
must approve if the country is to secure more aid and stave off
Parliament is on Wednesday expected to vote on Prime
Minister Antonis Samaras's package of measures making it easier
to hire and fire workers and a series of cost cuts and tax hikes
that should amount to 13.5 billion euros ($17 billion) by 2016.
Despite public exasperation at four years of belt-tightening
that has helped wipe out a fifth of the economy and leave a
quarter of Greeks jobless, the package, and a tough budget
slated for a vote on Sunday, are expected to scrape through
Greece's powerful main public and private sector unions will
launch a 48-hour strike against the legislation on Tuesday and
plan marches in the centre of Athens. Journalists, doctors,
transport workers and shopkeepers also planned stoppages.
Approval of the reforms and the passage of the 2013 budget
are crucial to unlocking 31.5 billion euros in aid from an
International Monetary Fund and European Union bailout that has
been on hold for months.
"These will be the last cuts in wages and pensions," Samaras
said in a speech aimed at galvanising the members of his
centre-right New Democracy party.
"We promised to avert the country's exit from the euro and
this is what we are doing. We have given absolute priority to
this because if we do not achieve this everything else will be
Without the aid, Greece will not be able to redeem a 5-
billion euro treasury bill falling due on Nov. 16. The bulk of
the new aid tranche, some 25 billion euros, is earmarked to
recapitalise Greece's struggling banks and jump-start moribund
lending, a prerequisite to climbing out of recession.
But union leaders say the measures will simply deepen an
economic contraction expected to run into next year.
"We resist all those who insist on a erroneous, dead-end and
destructive policy which dismantles everything, ruptures social
cohesion and impoverishes people," the GSEE private sector
umbrella union said in a statement.
The capital's 14,000 taxi drivers are on strike and office
workers complained of long commutes due to a halt on the city's
metro, tram and city trains, which serve 500,000 people a day.
Protests will intensify on Tuesday, ratcheting up pressure
on coalition deputies whose parties have slid in polls since a
June election in the Mediterranean country of 10 million.
On Friday, a poll showed New Democracy's support had fallen
to 22 percent, from 30 percent in the June election. Its
Socialist PASOK partner had fallen to 7 percent, down from 12.3
percent according to the PULSE survey.
"Everything is black and it will only get worse. They have
exterminated us. They have turned us into prisoners," said Eleni
Tatsou, 38, who works in a kebab shop in central Athens.
"I haven't been paid for eight months, but I know nothing
will change if I quit, so I'm waiting. Maybe I'll get paid one
day. Maybe a miracle will happen."
The smallest party in the ruling coalition, the Democratic
Left, has pledged to stay in government but rejects the plans to
cut wages and severance payments and scrap automatic wage hikes,
saying they will devastate workers who have borne the brunt of
"We will not vote in favour of these measures," Dimitris
Hatzisokratis, a Democratic Left spokesman, told Reuters. "But
we will support the budget, which means we are giving our vote
of confidence to this government."
PASOK is struggling to shore up support for the measures
after one of its deputies quit on Thursday in the wake of a
narrow victory in pushing through a privatisation bill also
demanded by the lenders, cutting PASOK's numbers to 32 seats.
At least five of those members have said they may not back
the reforms. Without them, New Democracy and PASOK's remaining
members are expected to muster around 154 of parliament's 300
votes, a move analysts say is vital to the government's survival
and Greece avoiding insolvency later this month.
"The measures will pass, but the majority will be so slim
that it will raise questions over the government's future
viability," said Costas Panagopoulos, head of Alco pollsters.
Greece is hoping the "troika" of lenders -- the IMF,
European Commission and European Central Bank -- extend a
deadline to achieve a primary budget surplus of 4.5 percent, a
measure of public finances minus debt maintenance costs.
That would give the battered economy breathing room, but the
government has said it would shrink more than forecast in 2013
and debt would peak at 192 percent of GDP in 2014, 10 percentage
points higher than earlier forecast.
That has increased the prospect of another round of debt
restructuring, a source of conflict between the IMF and Greece's
biggest EU creditor Germany who both privately say the Greek
debt trajectory is unsustainable.