Thousands demonstrate over price hikes in Greece

World

Published: 2022-02-26 18:44

Last Updated: 2024-07-04 02:16


Source: Press TV
Source: Press TV

Despite the improvement in tourism, sharp price hikes are weighing on the social climate in Greece, as thousands demonstrated Saturday at a call from unions to denounce the cost of living.

In Athens, thousands of demonstrators gathered in front of parliament at the call of the communist trade union PAME to protest against inflation and a new labor law that promotes flexibility.

"We are angry and upset," said Panagiotis Dukas, a unionist who works in the steel trade.

"We demand our right to a decent life and say 'No' to the political decisions against the popular base that tore our lives apart," he added.

In January, prices rose by 6.2 percent year-on-year, a record figure that could be inflated by Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Because of the current situation, "inflation may rise more than 2 percent on average in 2022," Panagiotis Petrakis, professor of economics at the University of Athens, told AFP.

Electricity prices rose in January by 56 percent and fuel by 21.6 percent, while the price of natural gas increased by 156 percent, according to official figures.

The Conservative government promised to "help the most vulnerable" and increase the minimum wage, which currently stands at around 650 euros a month, but unions called Saturday's demonstrations to "protect jobs" and "wages."

- specter of poverty -

Greek Finance Minister Christos Staikouras said Friday evening that Greece will complete its early repayment of International Monetary Fund loans, explaining that savings generated from interest rates will be used to "support households and companies."

With an unemployment rate close to 13 percent, one of the highest in the euro zone, Greece is still reeling from the heavy legacy of the financial crisis that engulfed the country between 2010 and 2018.

Greece comes directly behind Bulgaria and Romania at the risk of social exclusion, as more than a quarter of its population (28.9 percent) is at risk of poverty, according to 2020 data of the Greek Anti-Poverty Network.

According to these data, "44.6 percent of households say they find it difficult to pay rent or mortgages," while "16.7 percent do not have sufficient heating."

The left-wing opposition is demanding an increase in social assistance after a package of six billion euros allocated by the authorities for the armaments programme.

The Covid-19 pandemic dealt a new blow to the Greek economy, which had just barely emerged from a downturn in which the country lost a quarter of its gross domestic product and was forced to cut wages and pensions.

- Tourism boom -

But with a recovery in tourism and aid plans from the European Union, the country has been able to make up for some of its losses. The government has paid around 44 billion euros to support businesses and low-income earners during the pandemic.

The director of the Greek Employers Institute, Nikos Vitas, stressed that "the rise in tourism in 2021 and exports indicate great vitality in the economy at present."

According to official estimates, the growth rate will reach 6 percent in 2021 and 4.5 percent this year, compared to a contraction of 9 percent two years ago.

Another factor indicating that the economy is stabilizing is the gradual decline in public debt, the main burden for the country as it is one of the highest in the Eurozone. According to government estimates, it is supposed to fall to 189.6 percent of GDP in 2022 - compared to 197.1 percent in 2021 and 206.3 percent in 2020.