Greeks protest job cuts as unemployment hits new high
National statistics body estimates up to 1,000 people are being laid off every day
Municipal police officers on motorbikes take part in a protest outside the parliament in central Athens during a rally against public sector layoffs. Photograph: Yannis Behrakis/Reuters.
Greek unemployment hit a new high today as public sector workers such as police and binmen took to the streets of Athens for a fourth day running to protest against government plans to cut jobs.
Fuelled by three years of austerity Athens has imposed in return for bailout funds from its foreign lenders, unemployment inched up to 26.9 per cent in the latest figures, covering the period to April, the statistics service ELSTAT said - the highest since it began publishing jobless data in 2006.
Nearly three times as many Greeks are unemployed now compared to late 2009, when Greece plunged into a debt crisis that forced it to seek help from the European Union and International Monetary Fund to avoid bankruptcy.
“There is the constant fear that if you lose your job you’ll never find work again and then how will you pay your bills, how will you buy food?” said Androniki Gerasimaki, 54, an office clerk.
The jobless rate, up from 26.8 per cent in March, is more than twice the average in the euro zone, which stood at 12.2 per cent in May. Young Greeks aged 15-24 are the hardest hit, even though the rate for that age group eased to 57.5 per cent in April from 58.3 per cent in March.
About 700 to 1,000 Greeks are being laid off daily, ELSTAT estimates.
A turnaround is expected to take time to be felt in the job market, even if a recovery sets in next year as authorities forecast. The central bank projects unemployment will peak at 28 per cent before it starts to decline in 2015.
Athens, which has fallen behind on its reform pledges and missed a June deadline to place 12,500 workers into the pool, has been given until September to do so. Some 4,200 of those will be municipal workers.
Police sirens blared in central Athens for a fourth day in a row as dozens of protesting municipal police in green uniforms rode their motorbikes before parliament, waving Greek flags and raising clenched fists in the air.
Hundreds of municipal workers, among them school guards and garbage collectors, rallied outside the headquarters of prime minister Antonis Samaras’s New Democracy party.
“They (the government) need to be aware of the turmoil and the problems they are creating in Greek society,” said Themis Balasopoulos, head of the POE-OTA federation of local government unions which has stepped up action this week. “We’re talking about 6,000 families who will find themselves on the street.”
The country’s two biggest private and public sector unions have called a general strike for Tuesay, which is meant to coincide with a parliamentary vote on the policies Athens has agreed with its lenders.
Public sector union ADEDY, which is organising the 24-hour strike with its private sector sister union GSEE, branded the government’s plans as “the most merciless plan to devastate labour, wage, and pension rights in the last 30 years”.