Greek garbage workers end strike as rubbish piles up in heatwave

Published 30.06.2017 11:31
Updated 30.06.2017 11:33
Greek cleaning workers transport waste to a  garbage truck in the center of Athens, Greece, 29 June 2017. (EPA Photo)
Greek cleaning workers transport waste to a garbage truck in the center of Athens, Greece, 29 June 2017. (EPA Photo)

Hundreds of striking Greek sanitation workers ended a 10-day strike in Athens on Thursday over jobs as steaming mountains of garbage piled up across the country and temperatures soared.

Heaps of rotting rubbish have been steadily growing in Athens neighborhoods, raising fears of health risks as the country swelters in its first heatwave of the year. Garbage collection was expected to start later on Thursday.

"We decided to suspend the strike partly because of the heatwave, among other reasons," a union official told Reuters.

Union officials said they would explore other forms of labor action in the coming days.

Public sanitation workers who say their jobs are under threat marched through central Athens earlier on Thursday, many of them wearing their fluorescent work vests.

Some chanted "Tsipras your contract is up", a reference to Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, whose creditor-mandated austerity has seen him trailing in opinion polls.

"We want them (the government) to meet their promises. They promised to give us permanent jobs," said one worker, Marina Tsoukala, 57. "I'm close to pensionable age ... what private company would take us on?"

Before the accord to end the stoppage, other municipal workers staged a second strike inside a week in solidarity with the refuse collectors while more than 1,000 demonstrators attended an Athens rally in support.

Government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos had Wednesday accused the main opposition New Democracy party of being behind a strike he said was designed to "deal a blow to the government, the victims being the public, the workers themselves and public health."

A rally last Thursday to support the binmen and protest Greece's deep economic woes and a austerity diet drew a crowd of some 5,000.

Last week, as rubbish piled up across several major cities at the height of the tourist season, Athens municipal authorities urged residents not to take out their waste as temperatures soared beyond 40 Celsius (104 Fahrenheit).

Garbage collectors fear job losses from new regulations governing short-term contract workers in the broader public sector, which includes local government. A court order banning extensions to short-term contracts could leave up to 10,000 jobs on the line.

Greek authorities had offered a compromise, giving existing contractors precedence over newcomers when the system changes.

Job security is a sensitive issue in Greece, where one in four is unemployed as the country wrestles with its seventh year of austerity sought by international creditors in return for bailouts.

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