* Govt plans to privatise power utility PPC as part of bailout
* Strikes begin as govt debates privatisation bill
* Govt says it won’t allow strikes to hurt tourism
* Union: power is a public commodity and should be state run
ATHENS, July 1 (Reuters) - Workers at Greece’s state-controlled power utility PPC will stage a series of strikes from Wednesday, in the midst of the summer tourism season, to protest government plans to privatise the firm, their union leader said.
Greece is beginning to emerge from a six-year recession and has pinned its hopes on record tourism arrivals this year to help boost its economy. The government has suggested it may force people on strike back to work if power supplies are disrupted.
“You cannot have 20 million tourists coming to the country and deprive them of air-conditioning,” government spokesman Sofia Voultepsi told Greek Skai radio on Tuesday after the strike was announced.
“Unions will not take the country hostage.”
Stamatis Relias, the head of PPC’s biggest trade union GENOP-DEH, told Reuters that the union planned to launch 48-hour rolling strikes starting on Wednesday, as parliament is expected to begin debating a draft law allowing the government to privatise PPC in 2015, as part of Greece’s EU/IMF bailout.
“We believe power is a public commodity which should remain under the state’s control,” Relias said.
Greece was hit by a series of public sector strikes after the government introduced stringent austerity measures in 2010 as part of its bailout programme but industrial action has been less frequent as the economy has shown signs of picking up this year.
A PPC executive, who spoke on condition on anonymity, said industrial action was not expected to disrupt power supply as there was enough production capacity to cover demand.
The unions are backed by the main leftist opposition Syriza party, which has threatened to vote against the bill in parliament. The government has said it would take “all necessary measures” to make sure the unions do not disrupt the peak tourism season.
The government owns 51 percent of PPC and plans to spin off 30 percent of the firm to a private competitor.
Greece, which is kept afloat by a 240-billion-euro bailout by the European Union and International Monetary Fund must pass the legislation to clear the way for its energy market liberalisation and be eligible for further rescue loans.
PPC generates about two-thirds of Greece’s electricity output and controls almost 100 percent of the retail market.
It has an installed capacity of 12,800 megawatts and is also one of the world’s biggest miners of lignite, a soft, brown coal used in power production and seen as a heavy environmental polluter. (Reporting by Angeliki Koutantou; Editing by Susan Fenton)