Greek civil servants walked off their jobs Wednesday at the start of a week of rolling strikes protesting planned job cuts and other austerity measures imposed as part of the country’s international bailout.
Schools and courts were closed across Greece and hospitals were operating with reduced staff. Trains were to stop for four hours and even news broadcasts were cancelled in the morning as journalists joined the walkouts.
Greece’s coalition government has until year-end to implement austerity measures that include eliminating the jobs of 25,000 public sector workers and cutting public spending.
The country has received rescue loans of 240 billion euros from the EU after being shut out of bond markets. Last week, EU finance ministers discussed whether to extend Greece’s loans beyond the end of next year at a meeting where they looked at revamping the EU’s banking sector.
Jeroen Dijsselbloem, head of the Eurogroup, acknowledged that "Greece's trouble will not have been completely resolved by 2014."
27% jobless rate is Europe's highest
Ordinary Greeks have already faced rounds of tax hikes and unemployment is 27 per cent, the highest in all of Europe. Among young people, joblessness is 60 per cent, resulting in an entire generation that is unable to work.
In another sign of the deep economic pain, Greece’s birth rate has declined by almost 15 per cent in the past four years.
"The falling fertility rate is a natural consequence of harsh austerity and record levels of unemployment, especially among the young," said Christina Papanikolaou, general secretary at the health ministry. "It is the mirror image of the 25 per cent drop in our GDP since the start of the crisis," she added.
With more than a fifth of the country's population of 11.4 million living under the poverty line, prospective mothers are going without prenatal screening because of the fees for the services. Some even disappear from hospital without registering their babies, so they can avoid the 600-euro charge for a delivery.
Greece has put forward a plan to cut state salaries and pensions. A long-held privilege – extra holidays for those who work on computers – was eliminated last week.
In Athens today, two private sector unions planned to join the strike and there were demonstrations by the civil servants union.
A week of strikes is planned to protest austerity measures, with high school teachers and state hospital doctors among those planning rolling strikes.