ATHENS — Services ground to a halt in Greece May 6 as workers walked off the job at the start of a three-day general strike protesting new bailout austerity measures they say will further reduce incomes, in a sign of growing discontent with the left-led coalition government.
Unions on May 5 announced a 48-hour strike starting May 6, in addition to a previously declared May 7 strike. State-run and many private services, including garbage collection, public transport, municipal offices and news broadcasts were suspended.
Ferries to and from the Greek islands would not operate until the morning of May 10. Doctors, dentists and journalists joined the strike, leaving state-run hospitals functioning with emergency staff and all news broadcasts off the air, while lawyers have abstained from court appearances for months.
The strike was timed to coincide with the Parliamentary vote the night of May 8 of a bill overhauling the pension system, a reform proposed by the government under requirements for Greece’s third international bailout.
The vote will test Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who initially came to power in January 2015 on promises to repeal austerity measures previous governments had imposed as part of requirements to overhaul the economy and qualify for international rescue loans.
After months of tumultuous negotiations with Greece’s international lenders — other European countries that use the euro currency, and the International Monetary Fund — Tsipras called a referendum and new elections last summer, dropping his anti-bailout stance and signing up instead to a third program of rescue loans.
Tsipras’ government has a majority of just three seats in the 300-member Parliament.
The planned pension reforms, under which workers will pay higher contributions, have triggered months of protests, including highway blockades by farmers.
The government insists the reforms will create a fairer system and end years of political pandering to powerful labor groups.
Greece has been hammered by six years of austerity measures after its collapsing economy locked the country out of international borrowing markets in 2010. About a quarter of the workforce is unemployed.
Talks on further reforms as part of the country’s third bailout have been dragging for six months, delaying the payout of vital bailout loans. Eurozone finance ministers are to hold a special meeting on the Greek program in Brussels on May 9.