Greece gets bailout inspection as unions raise rights claim

The government has promised to complete the latest review in just six weeks, dramatically speeding up a process that in the past has often lasted more than six months.

By: AP | Athens | Published:October 21, 2016 8:38 pm
Greece, Greece bailout, Greece economy, Greece news Protesters shout slogans as they take part in an anti-austerity demonstration during the opening of the annual International Trade Fair of Thessaloniki by Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, in Thessaloniki, Greece September 10, 2016. REUTERS/Alexandros Avramidis

Bailout inspectors have returned to Greece to discuss more austerity measures and reforms, while the country’s largest labor union made an international complaint against the government, arguing changes in the job market violated workers’ human rights. Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos started meeting Friday with representatives from the International Monetary Fund and European Union institutions. Talks are due to include the operation of a powerful new privatization fund and labor reforms that would make it easier to dismiss workers and limit union powers.

The government has promised to complete the latest review in just six weeks, dramatically speeding up a process that in the past has often lasted more than six months. That would allow the government to press ahead with demands that the bailout lenders ease the repayment terms on Greece’s bailout loans.

A deal on debt relief would also help Greece in its quest to become eligible to participate in the European Central Bank’s bond-buying stimulus program, known as quantitative easing, or QE. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras discussed the debt relief question at meetings in Brussels on Friday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande, on the sidelines of a wider EU summit.

“I believe that by (early) December, we may have positive developments and positive decisions. So Greece will be part of the QE program at the start or early in the new year,” Tsipras said during a briefing attended by Greek reporters. “That will send a signal to the investment community, which is waiting to determine that the worst is behind us.

On Thursday, ECB President Mario Draghi said Greece would not be considered for the program until the issue of the country’s debt sustainability had been resolved.

Meanwhile, Greece’s largest labor union, the GSEE, said it has launched a case against successive Greek governments with the Council of Europe, a human rights monitor, arguing that austerity measures violated international rights conventions.

According to union research presented in the complaint, out of 3.7 million workers currently employed in Greece, 900,000 are not paid regularly because of financial difficulties facing private business. Some 30 percent are uninsured and 38 percent are paid less than the minimum wage, mainly due to the expanded use of part time contracts.

“Data was presented detailing the increasing poverty in Greek society, the dramatic deterioration of the lives of working people over the past six years,” the union said. “Successive measures … have eroded protection offered by collective wage agreements, cut the minimum wage, and imposed repeated and arbitrary cuts on salaries and pensions.”