- Nearly two weeks of protests and strike actions from municipal sanitation workers in Greece has led to growing piles of trash in cities around the country, as reported by Reuters. In addition to marching, sanitation workers have also been blocking the entrances to garages and landfills in an effort to prevent other collection crews from doing their jobs.
- Union leaders are calling for the government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to follow through on previous promises for long-term jobs. They fear that a recent court order banning extensions on short-term contracts could put thousands of employees in jeopardy. While Tsipras' government has offered to give these employees first preference in contract renewals, and met with union leaders earlier this week, no deal has been reached.
- The Greek government is now considering ways to move forward if the strikes continues, such as attempting to force the employees back to work or calling in the national army to do collections, according to the Greek Reporter. This week, emergency municipal crews have been sent out to spray down piles of decomposing trash and also make collections.
As Greece enters a summer heat wave, with temperatures regularly topping 100 degrees, government officials are becoming more concerned about public health. Residents have been asked to keep additional waste inside to reduce opportunities for rodents, insects and the spread of disease. Though for many, the smells coming from outside are already bad enough. Greek officials have also raised concerns about how the strike could affect tourism.
This follows other recent garbage crises in Paris and Beirut that drew international attention. The issue in Paris also revolved around a labor dispute over a policy that union officials believed would make it easier to terminate workers. Unemployment rates in France at the time were more than 10% and have since dropped slightly. Due to ongoing financial issues, the unemployment rate in Greece is currently more than 20%. The root issue in Lebanon had more to do with the operation of the government itself than specific labor disputes, leading to a longer-lasting and more complex situation. Sanitation operations are now back on track in the country and designers have reportedly become more interested in using recycled material as a result.
A potential strike was threatened at the Sims Municipal Recycling facility in New York earlier this year before an agreement was reached, but otherwise talk of such action has been rare in the U.S. recently. Aside from the occasional snow storm or service disruption, residents are used to seeing their waste get whisked away with minimal issues. Images like the ones coming from Greece are a stark reminder of how quickly that waste can present a sanitation issue and how deadly it used to be before cities learned proper management techniques.