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Greek unions launch general strike against new labor reform

Alex Berry
June 10, 2021

Workers' organizations have called for rejection of a controversial bill that they fear will dismantle the eight-hour work day. Demonstrations are planned across the country.

Protesters blocking the entrance to a ferry at the port of Piraeus
Workers from shipping, journalism and public transport sectors, among others walked off the job on Thursday as part of a nationwide general strikeImage: Michael Varaklas/AP Photo/picture alliance

Large parts of Greece shut down on Thursday as workers across the country joined a general strike to protest a proposed labor reform.

The proposed reform — which is being voted on in the Greek parliament next week — has been slammed by unions and left-wing parties as an attack on the eight-hour workday.

More than 16,000 people took part in various demonstrations in Athens, with another 10,000 in Thessaloniki, organized by unions and opposition parties. "No matter what the government does, this bill is condemned by workers," the head of the communist KKE party, Dimitris Koustoumbas, told reporters.

Protesters carried banners with slogans such as "hands off our 8-hour workday" and "slavery is not progress." A photo shared over Twitter showed large numbers of protesters gathering in Athens.

What are the strikes protesting?

Legislation put forward by the ruling conservative New Democracy party would make it possible for workers to work up to 10 hours in a day — getting time off later in compensation.

The bill would also increase the legal overtime limit to 150 hours a year and introduce a "digital work card" to monitor the hours worked, according to the daily Greek newspaper Kathimerini.

Labor Minister Kostis Hatzidakis and Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis have defended the proposed reform, saying it protects workers. They plan to follow Italy and France in solidifying workers' rights to refuse or ignore work, including emails, on days off.

Major trade unions the General Confederation of Greek Workers (GSEE), the Civil Servants Confederation (ADEDY) and the All-Workers Militant Front (PAME), along with an array of other labor organizations called for the 24-hour strike.

The GSEE said in a statement that it had "strong disagreements regarding the controversial provisions of the labor reform," and that if it passes "it will be a huge blow to the workplace, to collective autonomy and to society."

Who is taking part in the general strike?

Public transport is out of service all day in Athens, with the exception of buses, Kathimerini reported. Some airport workers also plan to stop working during the middle of the day.

Journalist unions also joined the strike. A statement on the website of the public broadcaster ERT said that it would join other news outlets and stop working between 5:30 p.m. local time (14:30 UTC) on Thursday 5:30 p.m. on Friday.

While hospitals would remain open, other public services such as municipalities and tax offices would close, ERT reported.

Ship workers from the Greek Seamen Federation (PNO) responded to an attempt by shipowners to have Thursday's strike classed as illegal by saying "terrorist, extortionate methods" will be answered by a "mass, militant defense of the strike," ERT reported.

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