Greek unions disrupt transport, services after Parliament votes to overhaul pensions

Greek unions disrupted transport and state services for a second time in as many weeks Thursday after Parliament backed Prime Minister George Papandreou’s overhaul of the pension system in a vote that tested the unity of his socialist government.

The plan, which includes lower pension payments and later retirement, was carried by a majority of votes in the Parliament after an article- by-article debate. A final vote on the entire bill will be conducted at a later sitting.

Papandreou, who expelled three members of his Pasok party for defying him in a May vote on austerity measures, won support from his deputies. Late Wednesday, Papandreou secured passage of the bill in principle, with 159 votes in favor.

“Yesterday, Parliament took a historic decision,” Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou told the chamber before the vote. “The reform of the pension system, this specific bill and the bill on pensions in the public sector, is historic not because it solves the country’s economic problem, not because it solves the social-security problem, not because it was written somewhere in a memorandum but because it is a right and fair reform.”

The country’s two biggest unions, representing more than 2 million Greeks, held a rally and march to Parliament in Athens as lawmakers continued their debate on the bill. Papandreou committed himself to the pension overhaul to secure $139 billion in emergency loans from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund that allowed Greece to avert a default on its debt.

The walkout grounded flights for most of the day, kept ferries docked and shut down banks, hospitals and news media. Parliament workers were also striking, with a skeleton staff assisting the pension debate. Protesters ringed the finance ministry, preventing employees from entering.

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