Greece: Protest against budget constrained by pandemic costs

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Labor unions led by the Greek Communist Party staged a protest during a parliamentary budget debate Thursday to demand a return of wage and pension levels that were axed during three successive international bailouts.

Some 2,000 protesters gathered in front of the parliament building in central Athens as lawmakers debated the 2022 budget, which includes a proposed 2% minimum wage increase that would take effect Jan. 1.

Bailouts financed by other eurozone countries and the International Monetary Fund when Greece was on the brink of bankruptcy during 2010-2018 resulted in repeated salary and pension cuts. The minimum wage was reduced by more than 20% in 2012.

About half of the decrease was restored after the bailouts ended, and minimum currently is 758.33 euros ($857.23) on an average monthly basis.

Greek Finance Minister Christos Staikouras said despite 6.9% growth forecast for this year, spending on the health service and income support during the pandemic allow for only modest increases in social spending.

“This is not the pre-COVID era,” Staikouras told Real FM radio. “If the state revenues have improved a bit, that will go to reduce the deficit.”

According to budget figures, public debt is expected to be 197.1% of gross domestic product this year, with a 7.3% budget deficit before debt obligations.

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