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General strike over pensions paralyzes Greece

February 4, 2016

Greece has been hit by a 24-hour walkout which halted trains and ferries, closed gas stations and schools, and grounded domestic flights. The government is under pressure from lenders to roll out a new pension overhaul.

Griechenland Protest gegen Kürzungen
Image: Reuters/A. Konstantinidis

Thousands of workers, farmers, self-employed professionals and pensioners were set to meet in central Athens on Thursday, amid the third nation-wide general strike since December.

The protest left hospitals manned only by emergency staff, closed schools and cut traffic links across the country.

Greece has seen a series of protests since the government announced its pension reform, which would sharply raise the social contributions and hit struggling employers and workers with new tax hikes.

The overhaul would also lower the maximum pension to 2,300 euros ($2,500) a month from 2,700 euros currently, and introduce a new minimum of 384 euros.

Members of wide array of professions criticized the plan, with doctors, lawyers, and engineers staging a protest dubbed "the uprising of tie wearers."

Farmers have also repeatedly used their tractors to block important traffic links. Their social security contributions are set to increase almost threefold if the plan is set in motion.

"We cannot live, we cannot survive with what the government is asking from us," said one of the protesters, farmer Socratis Aleiftiras.

Greece under bailout condition review

Lenders' mission in Athens

The left-wing government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras needs to save 1.8 billion euros on pension spending under the terms of international bailout. The pensions, however, have already been slashed 11 times since 2010.

Earlier this week, representatives of the EU and International Monetary Fund arrived in Athens to discuss the government progress. The police deployed heavy security to the hotel hosting the debt inspectors, ahead of the Thursday rally.

According to the government, the nation's pension system will soon collapse without the proposed overhaul. The lawmakers are set to vote on it later this month.

dj/kms (AFP, AP, Reuters)