Strike hits Greece as debt auditors mull further belt-tightening

Protesters from the Communist-affiliated trade union Pame march during a general 24-hour labour strike in Athens on Wednesday, Nov 6, 2013. A general strike hit Greece on Wednesday, paralysing public services and disrupting transport as EU-IMF a
Protesters from the Communist-affiliated trade union Pame march during a general 24-hour labour strike in Athens on Wednesday, Nov 6, 2013. A general strike hit Greece on Wednesday, paralysing public services and disrupting transport as EU-IMF auditors worked to finalise the recession-hit country's next budget, looking to eliminate a fiscal shortfall that could bring more unpopular cuts. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

ATHENS (AFP) - A general strike hit Greece on Wednesday, paralysing public services and disrupting transport as EU-IMF auditors worked to finalise the recession-hit country's next budget, looking to eliminate a fiscal shortfall that could bring more unpopular cuts.

Defying pouring rain, some 4,000 members of the communist-affiliated union PAME marched to central Syntagma square, police said. Another 1,000 protesters gathered outside the offices of the biggest union GSEE, but the main demonstration was scrapped due to the weather. Similar protests are being held in Greece's second city Thessaloniki, with some 10,000 demonstrators taking part, according to police.

The latest strike this year by the country's main unions shut down the civil service, as well as train and ferry services nationwide. Hospitals were operating on reduced staff and several flights were cancelled because of work stoppages by civil aviation staff. Journalists also staged a five-hour walkout.

GSEE, which represents the private sector, said workers were "carrying on their struggle against pointless austerity policies".

"The government and (creditors) are talking about fiscal gaps and deficits, but they don't say that the big gap is in the social state and society," GSEE chairman Yiannis Panagopoulos said in a statement.

Greece lurched into recession when the global economic crisis hit in 2008, and by 2010 rising borrowing costs on its massive debt forced Athens to seek a bailout from the EU and International Monetary Fund.

Two bailouts, worth up to 240 billion euros (S$402 billion) plus about 100 billion euros in a debt write-off, helped stave off a feared break-up of the euro and kept the Greek state financially afloat. However, they came at a stiff cost to Greeks. In order to tap the bailout loans the Greek government had to raise taxes while cutting benefits, wages, and jobs.

Since 2008, the unemployment rate has tripled to 27.6 per cent, while the economy has contracted by 22 per cent.