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Greece’s unions rail against powerful new privatization fund

By on September 26, 2016

Farmers drive their tractors during a protest in front of the Greek parliament in Athens, Friday, Feb. 12, 2016. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Farmers drive their tractors during a protest in front of the Greek parliament in Athens on Feb. 12, 2016. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

ATHENS, Greece – Greek labor unions are organizing strikes and protests against a plan to place major state assets under the control of a new privatization fund that will be headed by bailout creditors.

The fund called the Hellenic Company of Assets and Participations will take control of public utilities and other assets for 99 years if parliament approves draft legislation late Tuesday. The Greek Finance Ministry will appoint the majority of members on the fund’s executive board, but lenders will appoint its chairman.

The asset move is part of measures demanded by creditors from other eurozone nations as part of Greece’s third consecutive international bailout. Creditors argue that Greece’s privatization program had been moving too slowly.

Unions launched strikes and work stoppages this week at the state water company and other affected utilities, and called for protests outside parliament during the debate before Tuesday’s vote.

“It is inconceivable that utilities created to serve the public and provide basic affordable services will be sold off in this manner … We call on workers to use all means necessary to stop this crime against society,” the country’s umbrella GSEE union said.

Greece’s left-wing government has fallen behind on implementation deadlines linked to bailout loan payouts – and is clinging to hopes that creditors will grant the country better loan repayment terms next year, as it continues to tighten public spending.

A funding dispute involving the government and a private operator has left Thessaloniki, Greece’s second largest city, without local bus services for 10 days.

In parliament, Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos dismissed opposition charges that his government was handing over sovereign rights to bailout lenders.

“This new fund was the result of a compromise in negotiations … but it up to us, our government, to deliver a workable result,” he told lawmakers debating the legislation Monday at committee level.

“We are not handing over sovereignty or mortgaging the future. The fund is under the control of the Greek Finance Ministry. … And passing assets to this fund does not mean that they will necessarily be privatized – at least not by this government.”

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