ATHENS (Reuters) - Greek judges went on strike on Monday, kicking of a series of walkouts by state employees ranging from doctors to tax officials in protest at wage cuts and labor reforms demanded by international lenders in exchange for more aid.
Judges were hearing only cases nearing the statute of limitations and are expected to continue their labor action throughout this week, potentially delaying thousands of cases waiting to be heard by the already overstretched legal system.
“We are determined to defend our current wages,” the judges’ associations said in a statement. “We won’t tolerate the downgrading of the judges.”
Judges say they have already seen their salaries reduced by as much as 38 percent and have warned that relentless pay cuts were putting their constitutional position as guarantors of the court system under threat.
“We call on the state not to forget that it has the obligation of protecting the personal and operational independence of judges,” the group of associations said.
The action by the judges underlines the stiff opposition the government of center-right Prime Minister Antonis Samaras will have to face to push through the latest round of austerity measures, with Greece in its fifth year of recession.
The main labor unions have called a 24-hour strike on September 26, the first general, nationwide strike since Samaras took office in June with a mandate to keep the country in the euro.
The government must find about 12 billion euros ($15.78 billion) through austerity measures for 2013-14, in order to get the green light for more funds from its EU/IMF bailout program.
Greece’s bloated public sector has been targeted by inspectors from the “troika” of the European Union, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank. But unions have mounted stiff opposition and say the cuts risk undermining the government’s ability to manage the crisis and keep essential services running.
State hospital doctors also began a series of stoppages on Monday, protesting against cuts which have delayed payment of overtime pay. Only emergency cases were being examined.
Tax officials, who held a strike last week, are due to stop work on Friday in protest at what they called “barbaric” cuts.
Reporting by Renee Maltezou; Writing by James Mackenzie; Editing by Pravin Char