Angry Greek power workers urge MPs to cancel asset sales

ATHENS, April 24 (Reuters) - Workers at Greece’s dominant power utility Public Power Corp. (PPC) took to the streets on Wednesday urging lawmakers to rescind the planned sale of power stations which they have branded a “national crime”.

Hundreds of workers gathered outside parliament, as lawmakers debated legislation which paves the way for PPC to begin selling plants in May.

“Privatising PPC means fewer jobs, lower wages,” said Spyros Nikolopoulos, 54, a PPC worker for 32 years. “PPC belongs to the Greek people, it cannot be sold to any private investor.”

Some of the protesters emptied sacks of coal outside parliament.

Greece is implementing reforms and asset sales in exchange for loans from the European Union. It has agreed with its lenders to sell 40 percent of the coal-fired capacity of the PPC, which is majority state controlled.

A coal fired unit and a licence for a second in Florina, northern Greece, will be sold along with two units in southern Greece. Under bailout terms, PPC should launch an international tender for a buyer at the end of May.

Workers fear the sale will lead to job losses and hurt their labour rights, despite PPC assurances that jobs will be protected.

The country is to divest the capacity to comply with a European court ruling which said that PPC had abused its dominant position in the dirty but cheap coal market.

EU competition regulators which put out feelers for interest in the asset in a so-called ‘market test’ got interest from fifteen investors, PPC said.,

Wednesday’s protest was organised by PPC’s most powerful union GENOP-DEH, which kicked off rolling strikes this week.

Lawmakers were expected to vote on the bill later Wednesday.

Asset sales is a sensitive issue within the ruling leftist Syriza party, which was catapulted to power in 2015 promising to reverse privatisations. The conservative opposition accused the government of bringing PPC “to the brink of disaster” and lying to its voters.

“We feel betrayed,” said Nicos Siakotos, a 46-year old father of two who has been working at one of PPC’s plants in the Peloponnese since 1992 and now slated for sale.

“I’m afraid of losing my job like the other 1,100 workers in my town.” (Reporting by Lefteris Papadimas; Editing by Toby Chopra)