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Greek gov’t orders strikers back to work

ATHENS — Greece’s government invoked emergency powers to order striking public transport workers back to work as Athens’ subway system remained paralysed for the eighth consecutive day today.

Would-be passengers greeted with a closed subway system in Greece yesterday.

Would-be passengers greeted with a closed subway system in Greece yesterday.

As public anger grew over the week-long strike, the government said strikers could be arrested if they do not return to work – the first time the coalition has used the emergency law since taking power in June.

The week-long walkout is the latest test for Greece’s fragile coalition as it tries to take on powerful unions and implement a painful austerity program demanded by foreign lenders as the price for bailout funds.

“Neither the government nor society can be held hostage to union mentality,” Development Minister Kostis Hatzidakis said after talks with Prime Minister Antonis Samaras.

“The government can’t ignore this. There is nothing else we can do.”

The initial reaction from the workers was defiant.

“We will not back down, we will resist,” one union leader, Antonis Stamatopoulos, told Reuters.

Willing to suspend strike

Metro workers, who have defied a court order to return to work, say they are willing to suspend the strike and negotiate if their collective wage agreement is maintained until it expires in April before a new one is negotiated.

They oppose being included in the government’s plan for a unified wage scheme for public sector workers.

“It’s not that Metro workers went crazy over the last eight days. We exhausted every possibility before going on strike. We’ve reached our limits. We’ve run out of patience,” said Manthos Tsakos, general secretary of the Metro workers’ union. (Reuters)

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