The Greek government on Tuesday acknowledged that the EU-IMF 'troika' has urged abolition of National Collective Labour Agreement, which establishes a minimum salary, and that the move took them by surprise, while the demand also drew a flurry of reactions and criticism. Employment and social security ministry secretary genera for social security Athena Dretta said on private radio that "the demand took us by surprise", explaining that a relevant e-mail arrived at the minister's office on Sunday night "informing us of this development", which she said had not come up in the discussions with the troika.

    According to Dretta, the exact wording was "you should encourage the commencement of dialogue among the social partners", explaining how the issue of abolition of the national collective labour agreement was put forward.

    Speaking on the same radio station, interior minister Haris Kastanidis warned that such a move would be in violation of Greece's constitution.

    "We cannot violate the Constitution, we cannot proceed with a violation of democratic rights. Unfortunately, the troika is bringing for negotiation demands that are 'exported' from Greece by specific, non-political, quarters," Kastanidis said.

    "If the troika is to ask for measures that reduce our standard of living to levels unprecedented for a European country, then we have no need of the lenders. We could turn to the Greek people -- and perhaps it is an idea that we should keep in mind -- and tell them clearly: 'Our revenues are 54 billion euros. Our expenditure should be the same, and not the 110 billion euros it is today. Therefore, we can proceed to expenditures equal to our revenues, and this means ridding ourselves of dependence on the lenders, but also realising that we ourselves have opted for a substantial decline in living standard'," Kastanidis said.

    National Confederation of Greek Merchants (ESEE) president Vassilis Korkidis severely criticised both the government and the troika, warning that the latter's new demand would lead to full abolition of the Constitution.

    He charged that any intention portending abolition of the collective labour agreements would turn the country many years back, to the 1960s decade, "to times that no Greek wishes to return to", and warned that if the Greek society goes bankrupt, then so will the state.

    Korkidis accused the government of having chosen to concede "economic self-determination" and "production policy initiative" to the troika, and stressed that the Greek society will not concede its right to regulating its own affairs.

    He said the Greek economy was in a process of heavy domestic devaluation, and "it is clear to everyone that domestic devaluation plays no role in the competitiveness of the Greek enterprises, given that the minimum monthly salary in Greece is far less than the minimum salaries in the richer EU member states".

    "Let them decide, once and for all, whether, labour-wise, they classify us in the East or the Balkans, and whether they want us in Europe or not," Korkidis concluded.

    Federation of Greek Industries (SEB) president Dimitris Daskalopoulos called the demand a "badly-staged play" through which transfer of the cost of the crisis to the shoulders of the employees in the private sector is being attempted.

    He said that SEB has, all these years, actively proved its dedication to the institution of collective negotiations and the National Collective Labour Agreement, and charged that evoking an issue with the collective agreement is reminiscent of a badly-staged play through which those responsible for the crisis are attempting to once again pass off the cost of their own choices and handlings to the shoulders of those who are not to blame for the crisis, namely the private sector and its employees, who are being slowly but surely annihilated on the altar of preserving the clientele state.

    General Confederation of Workers of Greece (GSEE) president Yiannis Panagopoulos called the troika demand "provocative and brazen", charging that "they are demanding that we abolish the minimum protection enjoyed by young labourors, poor workers, and the people of toil", and urged the Greek government to "finally, for once, voice a strong, firm and brave 'no'."

    He explained that this is the first time that the National Collective Labour Agreement had been brought into the discussions with the country's lenders, unlike the branch labour agreements, which the troika has repeatedly called for abolition of their extension.

    According to sources, the issue will be discussed at the next Cabinet meeting, where final decisions are expected to be taken.