People walk past a pile of garbage in Athens, Greece, on June 26, 2017. Tons of garbage are piling up in Athens and other major cities as a nationwide protest against job cuts called by unions representing municipal sanitation workers entered its second week on Monday. (Xinhua/Marios Lolos)
by Maria Spiliopoulou, Valentini Anagnostopoulou
ATHENS, June 27 (Xinhua) -- Tones of garbage are piling up in Athens and other major cities as a nationwide protest against job cuts called by unions representing municipal sanitation workers entered its second week on Monday.
The government and strikers have failed to reach a deal in several rounds of talks, fuelling public health concerns especially amid rising temperatures.
An Athens prosecutor launched on Monday a probe into whether anyone should be charged of putting into risk public health, Greek national news agency AMNA reported, as the latest symbolic march of protesters in the center of Athens ended inconclusive.
Greece's local authority staff union federation POE-OTA launched the protest last week, after a court ruled against the new extension to late 2017 of the short- term contracts of more than 10,000 people working in trash collection in municipalities throughout Greece.
POE-OTA responded with work stoppages, strikes, and sit-in protests at landfills, demanding permanent employment of workers to replace the fixed-term contracts, which put workers in risk of being fired in a country suffering chronic unemployment of about 25 percent of the working force.
However, the proposal the Interior Ministry submitted to the parliament on Monday for hiring of 2,500 permanent municipal sanitation workers, was immediately rejected by POE-OTA as insufficient.
"Given that sanitation services are a daily operation in urban centers, we request permanent personnel earning salaries allowing them to make a living with dignity. There is no need for short-term workers which are recycled by governments and mayors under the formula 'You leave, you are hired'. As a result, each time people are offered fewer workers' rights and smaller wages," Christos Panagiotopoulos, a protesting worker told Xinhua on Monday.
With the protest going on, tones of garbage are piling up in cities' streets. And the rising temperature, which soared to 38 degrees Celsius in the mainland, made the situation worse.
Although the situation is becoming more and more hard to bear, POE-OTA President Nikos Trakas told Xinhua that protesters are determined to continue and step up their mobilization.
And a 24-hour strike and a new rally in Athens was called for Thursday.
"We ask people to stand by our side, to support our struggle. We are doing whatever we can. We cannot allow citizens to be forced to pay three or four times higher for the garbage collection. There is no other road for us. We call on all employees nationwide to participate in Thursday's labor action," Trakas said.
POE-OTA argues that the government plans to replace the short-term workers for garbage collection with private firms.
Manolis Skoulas, a former construction worker who has struggled with unemployment after the sector collapsed during the seven-year debt crisis, is one of the temporary workers facing the prospect of dismissal.
"Work is all we are asking for, what is self-explanatory across the world, just job positions so we can feed our families," he told Xinhua during Monday's protest.
Skoulas has two underage children. They barely make ends meet each month. He has been working as a sanitation worker in municipalities since 2011.
"Now all of the sudden, we face the sack. If I will be fired tomorrow I do not know what to do. I'm 51 years old. Nobody will hire me in the private sector. They prefer young people, cheaper working hands," he said.