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Greek workers walk out to protest ban on teachers' strike

A high school teacher, dressed as soldier with his mouth taped shut, marches during a rally against their mobilisation and the government de
A high school teacher, dressed as soldier with his mouth taped shut, marches during a rally against their mobilisation and the government de

By Renee Maltezou and Harry Papachristou

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greek public sector workers walked off the job on Tuesday to protest against a government decision to ban a strike by high-school teachers, shutting down several schools and reducing staff at hospitals to a minimum.

But turnout at a planned rally and march to parliament was poor, hit by rain and a growing sense of resignation among Greeks inured to frequent strikes against austerity measures.

Invoking emergency legislation, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras has threatened teachers with arrest and dismissal if they go ahead with a planned walkout on Friday that would disrupt university entrance exams, as he tries to show Greece's foreign lenders that Athens is sticking to unpopular reforms.

The action on Tuesday was the latest in a string of anti-austerity strikes since 2010, when Greece adopted severe budget and wage cut measures as part of its international bailout.

But fewer and fewer workers have been heeding trade union calls to down tools because the strikes have failed to stop the government from implementing austerity measures and increasingly impoverished Greeks cannot afford to lose more wages.

Only a few hundred people chanting "Hands off Democracy!" marched peacefully to parliament, as part of the strike called by the largest public sector union, ADEDY. Turnout in demonstrations last year topped 100,000 at times.

"Our message, that we fully condemn these policies, was sent, despite the low turnout," ADEDY's general secretary Ilias Iliopoulos told Reuters. "The government must make up its mind and show that it does care about students and teachers.

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 transfer 4,000 of them to remote parts of Greece 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 next week.

The government responded by invoking a law that allows it to mobilize workers in the case of civil disorder or natural disasters.

ADEDY had disagreed with the high school teachers' decision to hold a strike on the first day of exams because it would inconvenience students. However, it opposed the government using emergency laws to pre-emptively ban the action, saying this was undemocratic and violated workers' constitutional rights.

High-school teachers did not take part in Tuesday's walkout because of the disagreement with ADEDY, but some primary school teachers did, leading to the school closures.

ADEDY and GSEE, Greece's largest private sector union, are also planning a four-hour work stoppage on Thursday.

More than 1,000 high-school teachers marched to parliament late on Monday, holding banners reading: "No to the civil mobilization and this terror!" and "It won't pass".

GSEE and ADEDY represent more than half of Greece's workforce, which has been shrinking rapidly during the crippling recession after years of austerity.

(Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Pravin Char)

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