Greek hotel and restaurant employees walked off work on Thursday to protest against the government’s labor reforms at the peak of the summer season.
Hundreds of workers in the Greek tourism sector gathered in central Athens as part of a strike against legislated reforms that will allow “flexible” forms of work, a lower minimum wage and will weaken labor agreements that protect workers.
"Our stop here is a message that from now on they will find us in front of every hotel, every restaurant, every tourism business that does not adopt collective labor agreements," former Hotel Workers’ Union leader Nikos Papageorgiou said during the protest.
With about 25 million people visiting the country annually, tourism accounts for about 18 percent of Greece's economic output and employs a fifth of its workforce. Summer is its peak tourist season.
Union officials complained that employers in large hotels are forcing workers to sign contracts with extremely low wages and exhausting working hours. One-day contracts are also becoming a common practice in the sector.
"They are only thinking of profit, not the workers, not anyone. They see them as objects that they can exploit in order to make more money,” Sofia Fotiadiou, a former hotel worker who was laid off, said to Reuters. “They don't care about how people will survive and be able to support their families."
Some tourists sympathized with the workers while others said the strike in the middle of the tourist season would tarnish the Mediterranean country’s image.
Protests and strikes by unions to protect labor rights have been frequent in Greece, but turnout in recent protests has been low due to despair and fatigue after seven years of austerity.
Greece, which has signed up to three bailouts with the European Union and the International Monetary Fund since 2010, faces pressure from its international lenders who demand more reforms in return for new loans.
The Coalition of the Radical Left, Syriza, government was first elected in 2015 on a mandate to increase wages and protect labor rights. Critics to the left of Syriza, however, believe the government is not doing enough to curb austerity and neoliberal reforms.
The jobless rate in Greece remains the highest in the eurozone at 21.7 percent.