Striking workers gather in Greece

Ananova, Tuesday 18 June 2002, 13:08

Thousands of striking workers have gathered in front of parliament in Greece as politicians prepared to debate controversial social security reforms.

The reforms have been strongly opposed by Greece's powerful unions.

At least 5,000 protesters joined the rally in central Athens during a 24-hour nationwide strike called by Greece's largest civil servants' union.

A banner covered the front of the national economy ministry building demanding lawmakers kill the “anti-labour” bill, which include pension cuts and an increase in the minimum retirement age to 65.

The strike halted public transportation and many flights and ferry services around Greece.

The sweeping reform proposals also loom as a major test for the embattled Socialist government, which has long counted on strong support from labour groups. A vote on the plan is possible later this week.

The government claims the reforms are needed to keep the social security system from bankruptcy in a country with an ageing population and low birth rate.

Union leaders have a variety of demands, including pensions after 35 years of work regardless of the workers' age. Under the current system, for example, some women with children can receive state retirement benefits at age 55.

State hospitals and ambulance crews operated with emergency staff. State-run schools, municipalities, ministries and tax offices were closed.