January 27, 2016 / 12:36 PM / in 2 years

Ferries suspended, motorways blocked as Greeks protest pensions reform

Passengers carry their baggage as passenger ships are moored during a 48-hour strike of Greek sailors against planned pension reforms at the port of Piraeus, near Athens, Greece, January 27, 2016. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

ATHENS (Reuters) - Ferries were docked at Greek ports on Wednesday as sailors kicked off their second 48-hour strike this week, adding to a groundswell of public discontent over plans to reform the country’s struggling pension system.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras launched a vocal defense of the plan on Tuesday, saying that the country had no choice but to reform a pension system which had created chronic deficits and would collapse if left unchanged.

Greeks, many of whom will see contributions jump to about 20 percent of monthly earnings to prop up the new pension system, have responded angrily to the proposed changes, staging a series of rallies and protests across the country in recent weeks.

Under the plan, which Greece must adopt for its international lenders to complete their first review of its latest bailout, the country’s pension funds would be merged into one together with cutbacks worth 1 percent of gross domestic product a year.

“We’re striking because our main pension fund, the oldest in Greece, will close,” said Lefteris Saridakis, head of a union representing staff on passenger ships.

He said the workers planned to step up action when the bill is tabled in parliament next month.

Farmers who have been blocking motorways across the country on and off for days in protest at planned to cut tax breaks for farming as well as pensions remained defiant on Wednesday.

In a symbolic protest, they handed out about 50 tonnes of produce in under an hour in a poor, working-class Athens neighborhood on Wednesday, where a few hundred Greeks jostled with another for free bags of potatoes, lettuce and fruit.

Notaries also began a three-day strike on Wednesday, joining lawyers, engineers, doctors and other self-employed professionals who have taken to the streets against the measures.

Without pension reform, Athens cannot conclude the first review of its compliance to terms of a bailout worth up to 86 billion euros agreed last August, and move on with talks on potential debt relief, which Tsipras sees as a vital prize.

Protests against the plan are expected to culminate with a general strike by the country’s two biggest unions, representing about 2.5 million workers, on Feb. 4.

Reporting by Angeliki Koutantou and Alkis Konstantinidis; Editing by Karolina Tagaris and Raissa Kasolowsky

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