Strikes as Greece adopts industrial action revamp

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Protesters clash with riot police outside the parliament building during a demonstration against planned government reforms that will restrict workers right to strike in Athens, Greece, January 15, 2018.

ATHENS - Strikes and protests hit Greece on Monday as parliament adopted controversial reforms demanded by the country&39;s creditors, including curbs on industrial action.

Over 6,000 people demonstrated in the capital in protests against the reforms, police said.

Some protesters threw paint and pieces of masonry at riot police guarding parliament. The police fired back with tear gas. No arrests were made.

Apart from requiring much larger quorums for unions to call strike action, the 100-odd reforms also provide for the foreclosure and online auction of properties belonging to bad debt holders. 

Both measures are fiercely opposed by leftists and trade unions.

The government insists that the changes only affect local chapters of unions, and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras angrily rejected criticism that his leftist administration was out to limit strikes.

"It&39;s a shameless lie (to claim) that this government is enforcing demands by creditors and industrialists to deregulate the labour market," Tsipras told parliament.

"Strikes are neither abolished nor threatened by this government," he said.

Debt-laden Greece has received three multi-billion-euro bailouts since 2010. 

The third rescue programme, financially supported by EU states but not the International Monetary Fund, runs to August this year and Athens then hopes to fully return to market financing.

"Today&39;s vote will be crucial to speed up the country&39;s exit from the bailout in seven months," Tsipras said.

Monday&39;s strike, called by a slew of unions, caused havoc in Athens, with the shutdown of public transport leading to huge traffic jams.

State employees were also asked to strike by their union, Adedy, while air traffic controllers staged a work stoppage, disrupting flights.

Greece has seen around 50 strikes since 2010 following austerity measures imposed by creditors in return for the multi-billion-euro bailouts run by the European Union, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank.

Unions say that the creditors&39; demand to change the 36-year-old industrial action law is only the first step in ongoing EU-IMF efforts to limit strikes.

"You are starting to tear apart the right to strike," Communist party leader Dimitris Koutsoubas told the government in the parliament debate.

After Monday&39;s vote in parliament, Athens will wait for European finance ministers to approve the latest tranche of a third bailout programme totalling 4.5 billion euros ($5.5 billion).

The reform bill&39;s passage on Monday also marked the end of a decades-old practice of lawmakers voting in alphabetical order, at the call of their name, which usually took at least an hour.

A new electronic system was recently installed to enable simultaneous voting, drastically reducing the required time.