Greek tax workers strike over cuts
Greek tax officials have walked out at the start of a 48-hour strike to protest over salary cuts and other austerity measures, as the government struggles to meet revenue targets demanded by the country's international creditors.
The prospect of a shutdown of the tax offices for the last days of 2011 prompted hundreds of Greeks to rush to settle last-minute issues before the strike. Many handed over their car licence plates, preferring to keep their vehicles off the road instead of paying a recently hiked road tax.
A lower court ruled the strike illegal at the request of the Greek government, obliging the tax officials to turn up for work on Friday. It was not immediately clear how the strikers would react. Unions have sometimes defied similar orders in the past.
The Athens Chamber of Small Industries said it sent a letter to the country's finance minister, Evangelos Venizelos, urging a change in the higher road tax and arguing it was clear the government would be unable to collect the 1.2 billion euro (£1 billion) it hoped for from the levy.
The chamber said there had been a 30% increase in the number of people turning in their vehicle registration plates compared with previous years. That would lead to decreased road tax revenues and hurt the economy through a fall in the consumption of fuel, vehicle spare parts and spending on car maintenance and insurance, it said.
The increase in cars being kept off the road "is a characteristic example of the failure of the implemented policy, the core of which is the achievement of fiscal targets through the constant burdening with taxes and levies of Greek society which is already at its economic limit", the chamber said in a statement.
Greece has been surviving since May 2010 on multibillion-euro rescue loans from other eurozone countries and the International Monetary Fund after years of government overspending left it with an unsustainable public debt.
In return for the 110 billion euro (£91.8 billion) bailout, the previous Socialist government imposed harsh austerity measures, increasing taxes and retirement ages, cutting pensions and salaries, and suspending tens of thousands of civil servants on reduced pay. "As a result of the austerity measures putting some tax officers on reduced pay, we have 5,500 fewer tax office jobs," said tax officers' union head Charalambos Nikolakopoulos.
The strike comes a day after the sudden resignation of two prosecutors heading the judicial taskforce charged with fighting tax evasion. Grigoris Peponis and Spiros Mouzakitis claimed they were being sidelined and implied government interference in their work.
The main Supreme Court prosecutor ordered an investigation into why the two resigned and their allegations of interference, while Prime Minister Lucas Papademos met top judicial officials.