Large street demonstrations and rallies took place in a handful of Greek cities on Thursday, with the largest turnout in central Athens, called by trade unions and labor groups to oppose a landmark draft bill essentially liberalizing the labor market.

The protests were accompanied by a nationwide strike called by the unions, which mostly affected the wider public sector, urban mass transit, coastal shipping, trains and more than a dozen domestic flights. Journalists’ unions also joined the industrial action, although at least one Athens-based major media group and a good portion of Internet-based media continued to generate news material.

Among others, unions and labor groups bitterly oppose a provision whereby a wage-earner may opt to work overtime in exchange for a day off. For instance, under the draft legislation, if a wage-earner works Monday through Thursday for 10 hours a day, then he’ll be able to take Friday as a day off.

Unions, along with the left-of-center political opposition, have countered that the liberalization will merely allow employers to pressure and blackmail workers into working longer daily hours. Additionally, they insist that time worked be paid, instead of being transformed into time off.

Additionally, trade unions sharply oppose stiffer penalties against industrial actions ruled illegal by the courts and liability for damages caused by industrial actions.

Conversely, speaking on Thursday evening, relevant Labor and Social Insurances Minister Costis Hatzidakis, who has faced the most severe criticism over the initiative, reminded that draft bill extends mandatory parental leave for the father, toughens provisions against sexual harassment in the workplace, and, most importantly, foresees the digital registration – possibly with a smart phone app – of a wage-earner’s daily work hours, and by extension, overtime.

He also said the bill is in line with legislation applied in Spain and Portugal, where socialist and leftist political forces are in power.

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