Wednesday, September 15, 2010

OSE Workers: Don't de-rail us

It's not everyday you see a public transport bus stuck in front of the Evzones guarding the Greek President's House, let alone enough buses to fill a small parking lot. Nearby Vasilisis Sofias looked backed up for kilometers thanks to a demonstration taking place in central Syntagma Square.

The protesters du jour? OSE - Greek railroad company - workers who fear cut-backs and potential privatization.

"The government wants to minimize OSE," said Giannis Tzekos, an OSE employee. "We want to expand and create jobs and green development." 

Tzekos and company have got reason to worry.

"The New 'Vatopaidi'"
The Greek government Friday (just before PM George Papandrou's keynote speech at TIF Saturday) announced the outlines of its plans to rein in the state industry that offers low fares but hemorrhages money. How much? Vanity Fair reported that OSE makes 100 million euro a year, spends 400 million euro on personnel and another 300 million euro on the rest of the operation. In other words, it would cost the state less to let everyone take (price-controlled) taxis than use OSE, according to Business Week.

With a debt of 11 billion euro, it's a little too late for that plan. So the Greek government announced the following, according to the CBC:

  • Cut employee bonuses and overtime pay.

  • Close services that lose money.

  • Sell a 49 per cent stake in rail operator TrainOSE.

  • Cut staff to 3,800 from 6,300 (although workers will be offered other public-sector jobs).

  • Open passenger services to competition.

  • Obviously, this plan didn't sit well with OSE employees who staged a strike and demonstration Tuesday. The tranquil demo was not a large one by Athenian standards; a few hundred people largely from labor unions GSEE and PAME in addition to OSE. 

    Legendary protestor "Matsgiaras"
    Sign says "Karamanlis gave you 2 feet in 1 shoe."
    Other demonstrators whispered his name
    and got their picture taken with him.
    Was there a lack of solidarity? Train employees are not the most beloved members of the public sector since their average wage is often reported as 65,000 euro ($90,000+ before the euro crisis) by the government and media.

    "It's a big lie," Tzekos said, denying that the railways are mesa, i.e. in the government cookie jar.  "The state builds airports, harbors and roads. It tells the rails to go to the banks."

    "The problem is not the workers," said Eleftheris Maroussis, an international press officer for the Federation of Greek railway men. "The state must give a lot of money for infrastructure and they never give."

    The current Greek government has made "decades worth of changes in 11 months" i.e. cuts to public sector pay and the whole pension system. So you can see why OSE employees are clearly worried that they -- and services they say benefit lower income Greeks the most -- will be "railroaded."

    "We want to sit with the government and the prime minister at one table of dialogue," said OSE President Nikos Kioutsoykis after he rallied the demonstration via megaphone.

    Kioutsoykis had just dropped off a letter to the President of the Greek Parliament ostensibly on the rights of citizens and passengers.

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