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Greek parliament approves transport shake up

ATHENS, Feb 16, 2011 – The Greek parliament approved controversial plans to restructure the debt-ridden public transport sector in Athens which have sparked a series of strikes by workers since December.

The plans involve merging the five companies running public transport in the capital into two organisations and shifting some 1,500 staff out of a total workforce of over 11,000 to other state agencies.

Fares have also gone up by between 20 and 30 percent, while bonuses that helped push salaries up by 43 percent between 2004 and 2009 will also be ended.

The five companies had combined losses of 580 million euros ($755 million) in 2009 and an accumulated debt of 3.8 billion euros, according to the government.

The government bill to streamline public transport is part of emergency measures to slash state deficits that nearly bankrupted the Greek economy last year.

Unions have reacted to the austerity measures dictated by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund with several general strikes and waves of street protests, some of them violent.

The parliament also voted to crack down on a civil disobedience campaign, which has seen users refuse to pay fare hikes or motorway tolls, by toughening the penalties for offenders.

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