Thousands of Greeks protest over right to strike, hitting hospitals, transport and shipping

Reuters — Around 20,000 Greek protesters marched in central Athens on Friday against new reforms, including restrictions on the right to strike, that parliament is set to approve next week in return for bailout funds.

The bill pending parliament approval on Monday would restructure (reduce) family benefits, introduce a new electronic process for foreclosures on overdue loans and debts to the state  and make it harder to call a strike

The first major industrial upheaval of 2018, the shutdown of the Athens metro, used by some 938,000 commuters daily, caused traffic gridlock in the city of 3.8 million people.

Ships were unable to sail as workers went on strike and state-run hospitals had to rely on reserve staff as doctors walked off the job. More work stoppages were expected on Monday.

After the end of the march, which was largely peaceful, police fired a round of teargas to disperse a group of protesters who tried to break through a police cordon outside parliament. The unrest was short-lived.

“Hands off strikes!” protesters with Communist-affiliated group PAME chanted during a march of about 20,000 people, as lawmakers debated in parliament. Others held banners reading “Uprising!” and “No to modern slavery!”.

“This essentially abolishes the right to strike … such things only happened during the junta,” said retired ship officer George Papaspyropoulos, referring to the military dictatorship that ruled Greece from 1967 to 1974.

At present, unions can call strikes with the support of one-third of their members. The new law would raise that to 50 percent +1, which creditors hope would limit the frequency of strikes and improve productivity that lags about 20 percent behind the European Union average.

The government says it needs the reforms to receive tranches of bailout aid. The latest bailout, worth up to 86 billion euros,, expires in August. So far Greece has received 40.2 billion euros, and a new tranche is expected to be worth around 4.5 billion euro