Protesters demonstrate against a new austerity bill in Athens, Greece, on Jan. 12, 2018. Greek labor unions staged a first round of strikes and protests on Friday over the new austerity bill debated in parliament which, among other measures, tightens conditions for calling strikes. (Xinhua/Marios Lolos)
ATHENS, Jan. 12 (Xinhua) -- Greek labor unions staged a first round of strikes and protests on Friday over a new austerity bill debated in parliament which, among other measures, tightens conditions for calling strikes.
Thousands of protesters marched in central Athens, chanting anti-austerity slogans, as state hospital doctors joined seamen, construction and subway workers, along with others members of labor unions in a 24-hour nationwide warning strike, the first major mobilization of 2018.
A second round of industrial action has been scheduled for Monday when MPs are scheduled to vote on the bill containing the latest set of prior actions required by Greece's lenders to conclude the third review of the third bailout program begun in 2010.
On Friday, ships remained moored at ports, as the Panhellenic Seamen's Union participated in the strike, and commuters faced traffic jams due to transport employees' mobilization.
On Monday, civil service unions, the umbrella union representing private sector employees, as well as air traffic controllers, have also announced a three-hour stoppage at noon local time and more demonstrations are organized throughout the day.
"No more austerity, life with dignity, hands off the right to strike," read banners raised by protesters on Friday.
A group of activists tried to hang a banner in front of the parliament building and briefly clashed with riot police who responded by using tear gas to push them back.
Labor unions warn of escalation of industrial actions regardless of Monday's vote inside the assembly.
Among the two thorniest provisions in the new bill is the detailed framework for the start of online auctions for foreclosed properties and the change in rules for unions declaring strikes. Both policies have been firmly requested by Greece's creditors according to cabinet ministers.
Under the draft bill, unions must have the absolute majority of at least 50 percent of active members who pay dues before declaring a strike in the future. Currently the percentage is one third of union members.
Critics of the bill claim that the change aims to effectively weaken the last weapon workers have to protest for their rights.
"This draft law which essentially abolishes the right to strike, as well as the auctions, even of primary houses, and all other unacceptable measures which are against workers and are included in this bill, will not be implemented de facto," Dimitris Koutsoumbas, general secretary of Greece's Communist Party, said during Friday's protest.
Proponents of the measure argue that the frequency of strikes in Greece, in particular during the years of the debt crisis, obstructs the operation of an already ailing economy which struggles to stand on her feet and recover.
According to police data, more than 12,000 protests have been staged in Athens since the start of the crisis. Dozens of general strikes have been called by the largest unions.
As bills are approved despite strikes, some Greeks question the effectiveness of walk outs and demonstrations.