Athens’ metro workers, on strike for a ninth straight day to protest planned salary cuts, said on Friday that they will continue to defy the Greek government and remain on strike despite the threat of arrest.
Hours earlier, riot police stormed the main depot of the Athens Metro, which had been occupied by workers, in an attempt to end the strike, which has spread to include all public transport in the Greek capital.
Police implemented an emergency order issued by the government to end the strike. The order allows the government to arrest or fire workers who refuse to return to work.
Police broke through the gates of the depot and cleared the workers. No violence was reported.
Government officials have distributed notifications to all metro workers demanding they return to work. Ignoring the order can lead to arrest and jail terms of between three months to five years.
Speaking on Greek state television NET, government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou said he expected the metro to be operational at the weekend.
“It is the responsibility of the government to uphold the law and for the general public to not suffer such an inconvenience,” he said.
Radio reports said approximately 50 metro workers had returned to work on Friday, far less than the number needed to put the transport system back into operation.
The strike has caused massive traffic jams throughout Athens and hampered access to airports.
In a show of solidarity, workers with the city’s electric railway, trams, buses and trolley service on Thursday declared a strike.
Despite the inconvenience, many commuters expressed their understanding for the strikers, saying they too had suffered pay cuts to their own incomes.
“It took me more than two hours to get to work this morning but, despite the inconvenience, I understand what they are going through because I have had my own salary cut by more than 20 per cent,” said Antonia Rapioni, a public servant.
Metro workers said they were protesting a unified pay structure the government is planning for civil servants, which would result in the abolition of their collective labour agreement.
The government aims to reduce transport workers salaries from 97.7 million euros (131 million dollars) in 2012 to 74.6 million euros this year.
Average gross wages without overtime on the metro will fall from about 2,500 euros to 2,038 euros.
The government passed a new round of austerity measures in December affecting a variety of sectors to ensure it continues receiving international bailout funds.