Greek parliament approved early on Thursday a new austerity and reform bill which contains mass job cuts in the public sector in a key step to unlock further international bailout aid to the debt-laden country.


The omnibus bill passed shortly after midnight with 153 votes out of 293 deputies present in the 300-member strong assembly with the support of the two parties participating in the conservative-led coalition government.

The result of the crucial roll call vote, which was also a first test for the reshuffled government of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, opened the way for the implementation of a mobility plan to place 25,000 civil servants on labor reserve this year for dismissal in 2014 if they will not be transferred to other posts.

The provision among more than 100 articles which included amendments on taxation and other measures was the key request by European Union and International Monetary Fund lenders this time before the release of the next rescue loan tranches of 6.8 billion euros (8.9 billion U.S. dollars) to Athens this July and in autumn.

It came as trade unions have launched a wave of strikes and protests recently against additional mass firings in civil services agreed with creditors earlier this year as part of measures to shrink state expenses and overhaul state organizations to exit the crisis.

The reform has sparked strong reactions in Greece, since for decades jobs in the public sector were lifelong guaranteed under constitutional provisions.

As deputies debated the bill on Wednesday, demonstrators had gathered outside the parliament building once again in a fresh rally called by the two main unions, chanting slogans against austerity and the reforms.

The two-partite coalition also faced pressure inside the assembly from ruling parties' MPs who had expressed objection to certain articles ahead of the critical vote.

Samaras' New Democracy party and the socialists were concerned about defections, as they hold a razor thin five seat majority in the chamber after the loss of their third partner in June. Two ruling parties' legislators were not present at the vote.

The Democratic Left party which voted against the bill on Thursday withdrew from the coalition over the closure of the national television and radio broadcaster ERT which marked the first round of unprecedented dismissals in the public sector.

Critics of the bill spoke of a new heavy blow on Greek society which suffers from record high unemployment rates of more than 28 percent and deep recession after three years of harsh cuts on salaries, pensions and tax increases imposed to slash deficits in order to avoid default.

"We fully understand the difficulties Greek peoples face, but we are certain that the path we have chosen is the correct one," Greek Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras said addressing the parliament shortly before the vote.

Earlier on Wednesday, in a televised address, Samaras had announced the reduction of VAT rate on food service from 23 percent to 13 percent as of Aug. 1 as a signal that Greek economy is heading to recovery soon.

Greek officials and international lenders, who provide Greece with vital multi-billion-euro aid in exchange of the painful policies since May 2010, forecast that the country will start restoring growth next year.

Foreign officials, such as German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble who will hold talks Greek leaders in Athens on Thursday, have acknowledged progress made on the fiscal adjustment part of the stability and growth program. However, they urge Greece to step up the delayed and much needed reforms in order to overcome the crisis.

Source: Xinhuanet