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Greece to Use Emergency Decree on Striking Transit Workers

Jan. 24 (Bloomberg) -- Athens public-transit workers vowed to escalate their strike action after Greece’s government said it will invoke emergency powers to order them back to work.

The capital’s metro was shut for an eighth day today as workers strike over changes that would align their pay structure with that of other public employees. The strike was declared illegal by a Greek court on Jan. 21, prompting Development Minister Kostis Hatzidakis to promise the government will use the emergency powers to order them back to work.

Bus, trolley and suburban rail worker unions, which have also held stoppages in the past week, responded by calling rolling 24-hour strikes until Tuesday, Proto Thema newspaper reported, without saying how it got the information.

“Neither the government nor society can be held hostage by unionists,” Hatzidakis said in comments broadcast by state-run NET TV after a meeting with Prime Minister Antonis Samaras. The government had no other option than to proceed with the decree after transit workers decided “repeatedly not to respect the absolutely clear decisions by the Greek justice system.”

Greece’s government has implemented budget cuts and economic reforms to tame a fiscal deficit that has led to bailouts from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. These measures included terminating a deal with metro workers that had put them on a different pay scale than other public employees.

Suspension Offer

The striking transit workers have said they will suspend their labor action if the government lets the current agreement run until April and begins negotiations for a new deal, Athens News Agency reported, without saying how it got the information.

Former Prime Minister George Papandreou’s government used emergency decrees to end strikes by seamen, truckers and garbage collectors in 2010 and 2011.

The decision to use the emergency decree drew a mixed response from the parties backing Samaras’s coalition government. Pasok leader Evangelos Venizelos said in a speech today that the strike is unacceptable and “adds to the suffering of society,” while Democratic Left said in a statement that the government’s decision was an “extreme choice” and called for dialogue.

The Pan-Hellenic Seaman’s Union today decided to hold a 48-hour strike starting on Jan. 31 to protest government policies affecting its members. Separately, the union expressed support for the striking transit workers in a statement.

To contact the reporter on this story: Marcus Bensasson in Athens at mbensasson@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Craig Stirling at cstirling1@bloomberg.net

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