Greek lawmakers face crucial vote on new austerity package

An anti-austerity protester waves a Greek flag during a rally outside the Greek parliament in central Athens on July 16, 2013. Greek lawmakers will vote on Wednesday, July 17, 2013, on a new austerity package involving a huge shake-up and maybe job c
An anti-austerity protester waves a Greek flag during a rally outside the Greek parliament in central Athens on July 16, 2013. Greek lawmakers will vote on Wednesday, July 17, 2013, on a new austerity package involving a huge shake-up and maybe job cuts affecting 25,000 civil servants this year -- PHOTO: REUTERS

ATHENS (AFP) - Greek lawmakers will vote on Wednesday on a new austerity package involving a huge shake-up and maybe job cuts affecting 25,000 civil servants this year

The vote is going ahead despite mass protests against the reforms imposed in return for fresh bailout funds.

Parliament must approve the bill for Greece to receive its next instalment of 6.8 billion euros (S$11.2 billion) in rescue funds cleared by euro zone finance ministers.

Under the proposed reforms, affected civil servants including teachers and municipal police will have eight months to find new posts elsewhere or accept those offered to them. Otherwise, they would lose their jobs.

About 4,200 people are due to be redeployed by the end of July.

The size, cost, efficiency and contractual conditions of the public sector workforce in Greece have been in the sights of the IMF and EU ever since they moved in with the bailout programme and associated conditions for reforms.

The bill also covers a partial overhaul of the tax system, including the introduction of new criteria for taxable income and amending tax thresholds.

"Landmark vote tonight," said the front page of liberal daily Kathimerini, while top-selling Ta Nea said the parliamentary debate on the bill that started on Tuesday was held in a "war atmosphere".

About 4,000 civil servants, according to a police source, gathered on Wednesday in Athens's central Syntagma square near the parliament, to protest against the vote.

Another protest has been planned by the two main unions for later in the day, closer to the time of the vote which will be held late at night.

Municipal employees have been on strike since Monday.

On Tuesday, more than 20,000 people protested in Athens and Greece's second city Thessaloniki during a general strike called by the main unions.

"I am now jobless, thanks to a piece of paper that has not even been voted into law," Mr Dionyssis Vassis, head of technical instructors at public vocational schools who protested in Athens, told AFP.

His work is one of the 52 specialties taught at vocational schools that will be abolished from next week, according to the bill which leading union Gsee has called a "tombstone" for Greek workers.

Greece has been forced to implement a series of painful reforms over the past four years, in exchange for 240 billion euros in rescue funds put up by the European Union and International Monetary Fund.

The sweeping job, pay and pension cuts have hit Greeks hard, sparking mass protests and general strikes.