Greece's lenders to launch new review as Athens digs in on debt relief

Sun Oct 16, 2016 4:06am EDT
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By Michele Kambas and Lefteris Papadimas

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece and its creditors start a fresh round of talks this week on reforming its labor market, a tricky task for a leftist government sliding in opinion polls but needed if the recession-hit state can ever win debt relief.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was re-elected a year ago promising to fight to revive collective bargaining and resist reforms that may lower the minimum wage. But he also needs a swift conclusion of the review to achieve Athens's primary goal of restructuring a mountain of debt, the highest in the euro zone, and mollifying an increasingly jaded public worn by years of austerity and unemployment.

Some opinion polls show Tsipras trailing opposition conservatives by up to 10 points, so the pressure is on for him to deliver.

"We are optimistic the second review can be quickly wrapped up to move on with debt relief," a government official said.

Under a conservative-led government, Greece froze the mechanism of collective bargaining in 2012, cut minimum wages and liberalized rules covering mass layoffs.

Lenders, particularly the International Monetary Fund, want further liberalization of redundancy rules and to retain the current minimum wage system which is set by law and not collective bargaining as the practice in other EU member states.

It is an incendiary issue in a country where almost two in five are jobless, and many families make do with one earner at home, if at all.

"After so many years of recession where labor rights were scrapped, Greece doesn't have any margin for extremes. Greece cannot forgo common practice which exists for workers in other EU member states," the government official who asked not to be named told Reuters.   Continued...