Gridlock in Athens as transport staff strike over labour reform

Medical workers wearing protective face masks against the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), shout slogans during a rally organised by the communist-affiliated trade union PAME commemorating May Day, in Athens, Greece, May 6, 2021. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

ATHENS (Reuters) - Traffic was gridlocked in parts of Athens and some flights disrupted on Thursday as Greek transport workers joined a 24-hour public sector strike to protest over planned labour legislation.

Unions in Greece say they oppose the government labour bill because it restricts employee rights at a time when workers risk job losses due to the coronavirus pandemic. The government says the changes would give workers more flexibility.

With the subway, trains, public buses at a standstill and ferries to the islands docked at ports, many commuters were forced to drive to work, clogging major traffic arteries into the sprawling city of almost four million.

State TV ERT journalists also walked off the job on Thursday.

Police estimated about 6,500 striking workers gathered outside parliament, many waving red flags and banners reading 'we won't become slaves of the 21st century'.

Greece's main civil servants union ADEDY, which called a 24-hour strike to coincide with May Day celebrations, says the legislation seeks to raise the eight hour working day to 10 hours, abolish the five-day working week and collective agreements.

"(The bill) constitutes ... a direct attack on employees and their rights ... at a time when the country is in a deep health and economic crisis largely due to the choices of the government," ADEDY said in a statement.

The government has rejected the claims, saying the changes aimed to increase flexibility for workers and accusing the main political opposition for misrepresenting what it seeks to do.

Government spokeswoman Aristotelia Peloni said the draft legislation tries to address workers' real problems as labour market changes were taking place fast with digital platforms and work from home modes.

"The only thing this bill does is it tries to give workers and employers a degree of freedom on how to arrange the eight-hour workday," Development Minister Adonis Georgiadis told Parapolitika radio.

(Reporting by George Georgiopoulos and Deborah Kyvrikosaios; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

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