Greek crisis: Striking transport workers 'face arrest'

A commuter stands in front of closed escalators at a metro station in Athens, 24 January 2013
Image caption Workers on the underground are fearful their salaries may be cut by up to 25%

Greece has threatened transport workers whose eight-day strike has crippled the Athens underground system with arrest unless they go back to work.

Workers said they would defy the order and could step up strike action.

The order was the first time the conservative-led government had invoked a 2007 emergency law to deal with "peace-time emergencies".

Athens is trying to implement austerity measures that are unpopular with trade unions.

Greece has been kept solvent by huge rescue loans from its EU partners and the IMF since May 2010.

In order to meet its commitments to international creditors, Athens has since introduced a number of unpopular public sector pay cuts and tax rises aimed at boosting revenue.

Mixed feelings

Development Minister Kostis Hatzidakis said the Greek government had no option but to invoke the emergency legislation as it could not be "held hostage to union mentality".

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said: "The Greek people have made enormous sacrifices and I will not allow exceptions. Transport does not belong to the unions - it belongs to the people and they have the right to use it," he said in a statement.

But a coalition partner criticised the move as extreme.

"At a time when society is under such pressure, every option to reach an agreement must be exhausted first," said the Democratic Left party - one of the three-party governing coalition - in a statement. "Being uncompromising - on both sides - does not help."

Feelings in the capital are mixed about the strike, which has affected some 500,000 commuters.

Some complain their daily transport costs have tripled as they are forced to pay for taxis to work.

But workers on the underground refuse to be included in a public sector unified wage scheme that would see their salaries reduced by up to 25%.

"We are protesting and if they fire people, let them come, they will take us dead from here," said Antonis Stamatopoulos, head of the Athens metro workers' union. "Starting tomorrow there will be a transportation blackout."

Greece has imposed its civil mobilisation legislation nine times since the collapse of its military dictatorship in 1974. The 2007-amended law carries a maximum five-year prison sentence.