Greece: General strike with a silver lining - even the taxman's walked out

Public services are being affected as strikers oppose another round of cuts

Athens

If you wanted to get a hip replacement, file for divorce or pay your taxes in Greece this week, you were out of luck as unions staged a series of strikes in key services to protest against a new round of painful cuts being hammered out to secure the next round of eurozone bail-out cash.

Politicians in the coalition government have been locked behind closed doors all week, first with inspectors from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, and then with each other as they try to scrape together the deep cuts needed to stop the country going bankrupt.

Most of the striking workers – from tax officers to university professors – oppose looming salary cuts which are included in the austerity package that is meant to save Greece at least €11.5bn (£9.2bn) over the next two years. More than half of the cuts will come from cutting wages, pensions and social benefits again, a finance ministry official confirmed. But Athens has yet to agree on the entirety of the austerity programme, which could threaten the release of a €31.5bn tranche the country needs to avoid debt default and stay in the euro.

"The negotiations are difficult," the Finance Minister, Yannis Stournaras, said this week, in reference to talks with representatives of the EU and IMF. "We're doing everything possible to minimise the social cost, especially for the lower income groups."

Government officials remained hopeful, however, that Greece could be close to agreeing the full spending cuts soon. Yesterday afternoon, Mr Stournaras met with the inspectors for the final time before they leave Athens today to consider their findings. The inspectors said they had held "productive discussions" and the government had made "good progress", adding that officials would return for further meetings in about a week.

The auditors' report on Greece was initially expected to be ready in time for a eurozone finance ministers' meeting on 8 October, but a Reuters report – later denied by Greek officials – suggested it could be pushed back until after the US presidential elections on 6 November to avoid anything that could "rock the global economy".

Some good news emerged yesterday from the finance ministry, which revealed that for the first time this year, Athens presented a budget surplus. But with 24.4 per cent of the country unemployed, experts warn that the succession of austerity measures have only compounded the country's deep recession, now in its fifth year.

With more than a quarter of the population living below the poverty line, the planned austerity measures revived public anger. Hospital doctors have been striking since Monday, leaving many hospitals running with skeleton staff. "Most of us continued to work; we can't just give up on our patients," said Alexandros Bachariou, an eye doctor at one of Greece's largest hospitals, Evangelismos. But he lamented the conditions medical staff had to work under. "We're seriously understaffed: retiring colleagues aren't being replaced while the number of patients using public hospitals has soared because of the crisis," he said.

Tax officers yesterday joined prosecutors and judges who continued their week long work stoppages. Vassiliki Thanou, the president of the Union of Judges and Prosecutors, said her colleagues had previously agreed to salary reductions to help the country battle its financial crisis. "But the new planned cuts mean our wages could drop by up to 60 per cent and that means we're stripped of a dignified living." On Thursday, various small protests – by tourist operators and metal workers – and a strike by metro and tram drivers led to lines of snarled traffic in the capital.

Authorities ramped up security measures around the office of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras. Most of the gates of an adjacent public park were locked suddenly, trapping tourists inside, while scuffles broke out between police guarding the building and protesting firemen.

The protracted negotiations over the cuts have added pressure on Mr Samaras' fragile coalition government. The ruling party's popularity has dropped while MPs have threatened to vote against the cuts. Fotis Kouvelis, the leader of the Democratic Left party, urged representatives to "stop attacking the Greek society" and spoke against further cuts to pensions and social benefits. Unions have called for a general strike next week.

'Absolute need' to preserve the eurozone

The leaders of Italy and Greece are insisting on the "absolute need" to preserve the eurozone.

Italy's Prime Minister, Mario Monti, met his Greek counterpart, Antonis Samaras, on the sidelines of a political conference in Rome yesterday, also attended by the Irish and Spanish premiers.

A statement from Mr Monti's office said the two leaders reiterated their conviction of "the absolute need to safeguard the integrity of the eurozone, stabilise markets and proceed in the process of European integration".

While Ireland and Greece have both applied for bailouts to prop up their economies, Italy and Spain have not, despite high levels of government debt. Spain in particular is under pressure to apply for funds beyond the €100bn loan it has procured for its banks.

AP

News
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
people
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
News
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvSeries 5 opening episode attracts lowest ratings since drama began
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck stars as prime suspect Nick Dunne in the film adaptation of Gone Girl
filmBen Affleck and Rosamund Pike excel in David Fincher's film, says Geoffrey Macnab
Life and Style
fashion
News
news
Travel
Warner Bros released a mock-up of what the new Central Perk will look like
travel
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
News
i100
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
Sport
Greg Dyke insists he will not resign as Football Association chairman after receiving a watch worth more than £16,000 but has called for an end to the culture of gifts being given to football officials
football
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
Sport
premier league
Sport
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Web Application Support Manager

£60000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Reigate...

Music Teacher

£85 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Job Opportunity for Secondary ...

Maths Teacher

£85 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Job Opportunity for Secondary ...

C# asp.net Developer - West Sussex - permanent - £40k - £50k

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum + excellent benefits package: Clearwater People Solu...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments