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Thousands strike in Greece over labour reform

By AFP - Jun 10,2021 - Last updated at Jun 10,2021

People take part in a demonstration part of a 24-hour general strike called by Greece's labour unions and opposition parties in Athens on Thursday to protest against a government's new labour bill which promotes working hour flexibility, which critics have labelled "modern-day slavery". (AFP photo)

ATHENS — Thousands of demonstrators marched in Greece on Thursday as a 24-hour nationwide strike against a new labour reform shut down transport and public services.

Over 16,000 people took part in separate demonstrations in Athens organised by unions and opposition parties, police said, with leftist, socialist and communist party leaders also attending the rallies.

"No matter what the government does, this bill is condemned by workers," Dimitris Koutsoumbas, head of the communist KKE party, told reporters.

"It belongs in the trash heap," he said.

Another 10,000 marched in Thessaloniki, and protests were held in other major Greek cities.

Critics have labelled the reform, which promotes working hour flexibility, "modern-day slavery".

"Hands off the 8-hour (working day)," read a banner carried by pro-communist protesters in the capital.

"Slavery is not progress," said another.

The government says the reform -- to be put to a vote in parliament next week -- introduces optional working hour flexibility, sets rules on remote work, improves parental leave and includes safeguards against workplace sex harassment.

The Greek economy has reopened after a second six-month pandemic lockdown. State data last week showed output grew by 4.4 percent in the first three months of the year, compared to the previous quarter.

Labour Minister Costis Hatzidakis has said the new rules allow staff to personally negotiate with management the option of working more hours during part of the year, and subsequently take more time off.

A working day of up to 10 hours is permitted under the reform, in return for additional paid leave.

But unions and opposition parties say it undermines collective bargaining, disrupts employees' personal lives and formalises overtime exploitation by employers -- especially large businesses -- which has already been going on for years.

"Workers cannot pay for their rent, (the needs of) their children, their shopping with paid leave," the main opposition Syriza party's speaker against the bill, Mariliza Xenogiannakopoulou, told parliament.

"Once personal contracts are formalised, they will proliferate...and become the norm," she said.

Unions are also opposed to the reform setting stricter rules on calling strikes.

The government's majority in parliament already approved the bill at a first reading on Wednesday, ahead of a plenary vote next week.

The 24-hour walkout sidelined ferry services and trains, forced flight rescheduling and snarled most public transport in Athens. 

Public services shut down and most journalists also went offline for the day.

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