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World News

FACTBOX - Greece's economic policies opposed by unions

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece’s public sector union federation (ADEDY) holds a nationwide half-day strike on Wednesday in protest at the conservative government’s policies.

Anger at economic hardships fuelled the worst riots in decades last month, while the country’s farmers have blocked highways and border crossings, demanding compensation for low prices for their produce.

Here are some of the government reforms and measures opposed by unions and other groups:

PENSIONS

Despite fierce union opposition, parliament approved in March an overhaul of the ailing social security system whose actuarial deficits are estimated at twice Greece’s 240 billion euro (222 billion pounds) GDP. Experts predicted a collapse of the system in 15 years unless changes were made and warned the reforms may not save it.

Many workers were angry they were being asked to increase pension contributions as they feel the pinch of the global economic downturn, while retirement age was extended for some groups.

The changes included merging 133 pension funds to form 13, raising retirement ages, eliminating special and supplementary pensions, and giving incentives to work for more years.

PRIVATISATIONS

The ruling New Democracy government auctioned stakes in Greece’s largest ports in Piraeus and Thessaloniki, and sold a stake in telecoms company OTE.

It has also pledged to push ahead with the privatisation of several state-owned companies, such as Olympic Airways and Postal Savings Bank. Other assets to go on the auction block may include Athens International Airport.

The sales were pushed through despite strong opposition by unions fearing job losses and wage cuts as new management tries to ride out the worldwide slowdown.

WAGES

A law ending the right of employees at state companies to negotiate collective wage contracts won approval in parliament in August last year. The government said it wanted to clean up debt-ridden state companies and overhaul protective labour laws to attract foreign investment.

The government said at the time the reform should be pushed ahead “for the sake of the Greek economy and society,” as high wages have added to state companies’ debts, which ordinary Greeks had to cover with their taxes.

EDUCATION

Efforts to change the constitution and allow the creation of private universities met with violent protests in recent years and led to the resignation of an education minister. The government has pledged to move ahead with the reform which it says is necessary for a more competitive work force.

TAX MEASURES

A package of tax measures designed to raise flagging fiscal revenues in the face of an economic slowdown was approved by parliament in August. The reform removed an exemption from tax for self-employment people earning less than 10,500 euros a year -- which had benefited many of Greece’s poorest.

It also imposed a 20 percent increase in car licence tax and introduced a 10 percent tax on capital gains on shares, replacing the existing 0.15 percent on the sale of equities.

Reporting by Renee Maltezou; Editing by Louise Ireland

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