Greeks strike as new tax, pension reforms loom

Greeks start a 48-hour nationwide strike in reaction to tax and pension reforms put into place by the nation in order to qualify for more of a multi-billion euro bailout it signed up to last year.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Members of the communist-affiliated PAME union shout slogans during a 48-hour general strike against tax and pension reforms in Athens, Greece, May 6, 2016.

Updated May 7, 2016

"Wake up. We are dying," said shopkeeper Anna Papadopoulou, 74, who wept as she spoke. Her comment was addressed to the Greek government, which is facing a nationwide strike against further austerity measures.

Tram, rail, metro and even ferry services were shut down in Athens as a 48-hour nationwide strike went into effect on Friday in anger towards tax and pension reforms pursued by the indebted nation.

The Greek parliament is set to vote on a legislation on Sunday that would raise social security contributions, increase income tax for high earners and introduce a new national pension.

It would also gradually phase out a pension for low income earners.

The legislation is needed to qualify for more of a multi-billion euro bailout it signed last year.

Greece needs the bailout funds to pay IMF loans, ECB bonds maturing in July and growing state arrears.

Called by the largest private and public sector unions, the strike left ships docked at port, disrupted public transport and kept civil servants and journalists off the job.

Greece's largest labour union, the private sector GSEE, said the reforms, now pending approval in parliament, were the "last nail on the coffin" for workers and pensioners who have sacrificed enough after six years of austerity.

"They are trying to prove to the Eurogroup that they are good students but they are destroying Greece's social security system," a GSEE official said, referring to euro zone finance ministers who are due to meet on Monday.

A tranche of about 5 billion euros is overdue, after talks faltered over the pace of reforms. The Eurogroup is expected to discuss the stalemate on May 9.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, elected last year on an initial anti-austerity pledge but who was later forced to sign up to Greece's third international bailout since 2010, has a thin majority with 153 lawmakers in a 300-seat parliament.

Worn by years of austerity, Greeks fear that the new reforms will push the country further to the brink.

"We don't have food to eat and nobody asks us how we are," said Anna Papadopoulou, the shopkeeper. 

TRTWorld, Reuters