Angry at labor market shake-up, Greek truckers march to parliament in Athens

By Derek Gatopoulos, AP
Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Greek truckers march to parliament

ATHENS, Greece — Some 2,500 protesting truck drivers, carrying Greek flags and shouting “shame” and “thieves,” marched to parliament Tuesday, on the ninth day of demonstrations against planned labor market reforms.

Brief scuffles broke out as some protesters threw plastic bottles of water and cups of coffee at riot police, who responded with stun grenades. No arrests or injuries were reported, and unionists said they planned to spend the night outside parliament — where the proposed reforms will be debated over the next two days.

Truckers have lined up their vehicles along highways and busy Athens roads since Sept. 13 to protest plans to abolish so-called closed-shop professions, which have jobs protected by fixed fees and rates and strict licensing rules.

The new rules will eventually affect a number of other professional groups, including pharmacists and civil engineers.

Truck drivers say the changes are too abrupt and will bankrupt those of their colleagues who have borrowed money to buy a truck license.

Greece has promised to reform its labor market as part of austerity measures agreed in return for €110 billion ($144 billion) in rescue loans from European countries and the International Monetary Fund.

Labor unions fiercely oppose the austerity, arguing that less well-off Greeks are suffering disproportionately.

On Tuesday, the umbrella civil servant union Adedy called a 24-hour strike on Oct. 7, the eve of a hearing in Greece’s highest administrative court of a legal challenge by unions and bar associations against the deal that secured the loans.

Also, state railway workers will hold two five-hour strikes on Wednesday and Thursday to protest government plans to cut their salaries and open railways to private competition.

Greece remains effectively blocked from borrowing on the bond market, due to high interest rates. But on Tuesday the government announced another successful sale of short-term debt.

The state debt management agency said it raised €390 million by selling 13-week treasury bills.

The sale was oversubscribed by 6.25 times, with a yield of 3.98 percent — and together with successful debt auctions in Spain and Ireland, helped ease fears over Europe’s debt crisis.

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