Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 September 2014

New strikes bring Athens to a halt

A commuter sits outside at a closed metro station during a 48-hour strike by public transport workers in Athens (AP Photos)

Public transport in Greece's capital has ground to a halt once more as workers start a 48-hour strike against austerity measures imposed by the government.

Separately, state power company employees have occupied the company's building to prevent electricity bills including a new property tax from being issued.

The Athens strikes and occupation are the latest in a series of walkouts, sit-ins at government buildings and protests as unions lash out against the austerity measures the government is putting in place to ensure it qualifies for loans from its 110 billion euro (£96 billion) international bailout package that is preventing it from defaulting.

State television and radio journalists, lawyers, hospital doctors, teachers, customs and tax officers, seamen and municipal workers have also either walked off the job or are planning strikes in the coming days.

Unionists at the state power company have said they will occupy the company's billing facility to prevent the sending of the latest electricity bills that will include a new property tax that many Greeks say they cannot pay.

The government announced the tax last month after international debt inspectors suspended their review of Greek reforms because of concerns over missed targets and delayed implementation.

The new tax is calculated on a sliding scale depending on size and location of property, and is to be imposed through electricity bills to circumvent Greece's dysfunctional tax system and make it easier for the state to collect. Those who do not pay risk having their electricity shut off.

But the power employees' union has reacted with outrage, saying the power company should not be used as a tax collection system. Workers have said they will refuse to switch consumers' electricity off for non-payment of the new tax, and will occupy the billing facility building to prevent any bills from being issued.

"Electricity ... cannot be used as a means of blackmail against the unemployed, the poor, the wage-earner," the company union GENOP-DEH said, adding that the workers and the union "will not allow our poor fellow citizens to be left without power".

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