Greek public sector workers walk off in job strike

Associated Press

Athens, Greece — Greek public sector workers walked off the job in a 24-hour strike Thursday to protest social security and pension reforms demanded as part of Greece’s third international bailout, leaving flights canceled, schools closed and news broadcasts off the air.

Air traffic controllers joined the strike, shutting down Athens’ international airport and forcing airlines to cancel flights. State-run hospitals and the ambulance service were operating with emergency staff only, while engineers, lawyers and journalists were also on strike.

About 4,000 people marched through central Athens in two separate demonstrations.

The social security reform, which would see contributions hiked to what critics say is unsustainable levels, has led to widespread opposition in a country reeling from six years of financial crisis that has slashed incomes and spiked unemployment to around 25 percent. The pension system has also been battered by a massive 2012 debt restructuring deal.

Negotiators from European Union institutions and the International Monetary Fund were to meet later Thursday with Labor Minister Giorgos Katrougalos to discuss the reforms.

The left-led coalition government has been resisting pressure to impose a new round of deep cuts for pensioners and wants to hike contributions from businesses and salary earners, triggering protests from professional groups that have lasted months.