ATHENS (Reuters) — Greek public sector workers will walk off the job on Tuesday to protest against a government decision to ban a strike by high-school teachers that would disrupt university entrance exams.
It is the third time this year that Prime Minister Antonis Samaras has threatened workers with arrest if they go ahead with protests, as he tries to show Greece's foreign lenders that Athens is sticking to unpopular reforms.
"We fully condemn the government's decision, we will protest against the civil mobilization in the education sector and we support teachers' demands," the general secretary of public sector union ADEDY, Ilias Iliopoulos, said.
The strike is expected to shut public schools, local administration offices and reduce staffing at hospitals to a minimum.
ADEDY will also stage a four-hour work stoppage on Thursday in solidarity with protesting teachers, who plan to begin their strike on Friday, when exams start.
The country's largest private sector union was expected to join the stoppage on Thursday, unionists said.
The conservative-led coalition wants teachers to put in two more hours of work each week to reach the average levels of high school teachers' working hours in Europe, and it wants to transfer 4,000 of them to remote parts of Greece in order to plug staffing gaps.
These measures would allow the government to dismiss about 10,000 part-time teachers when their temporary contracts expire, teachers' union OLME said, calling for the 24-hour strike on Friday and rolling strikes the following week.
The government invoked emergency powers on Sunday to block their strike, using a law that allows it to forcibly mobilize workers in the case of civil disorder or natural disasters.
Police started distributing the orders on Monday, forcing teachers to go to work on Friday or face arrest or dismissal.
Teachers' unions, who will hold a rally in Athens on Monday, said they would challenge the government's decision in court.
"It's unacceptable. They have no right to criminalize a planned strike — before unions even make a final decision," said Nikos Kioutsoukis, general secretary of Greece's private sector umbrella union GSEE.
GSEE and ADEDY represent more than one-half of Greece's workforce, which has been shrinking rapidly reflecting the pain caused by the crippling recession after years of austerity.