Greek strikes raise doubts over IMF plan to open up professions
DOUBTS have emerged over whether the IMF can force through changes in the professions in Ireland and other bailed-out countries after Greek pharmacy owners, lawyers and engineers went on strike.
Ireland signed up in December to changes in the medical, legal and pharmacy sectors, but the IMF and the Greek government have run into opposition to similar changes there.
Greece is receiving €110bn in aid and its economic programme is similar to Ireland's in several key areas.
One of these is a move to liberalise previously "sheltered" professions. The IMF believes if these are opened up prices can come down and businesses can become more competitive.
But there were walk-outs as Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou prepared to unveil a draft bill to liberalise about 150 closed shops.
Greece must have legislation in place by the end of February or risk a delay in the disbursement of its next €15bn loan tranche from the EU and the IMF.
Ireland is committed to setting up a new regulator for the legal profession, to eliminating curbs on the number of GPs and to halting generous mark-ups on medicines bought under the state drugs payment scheme.
According to a report by IOBE, an Athens think-tank, similar moves would increase Greece's gross domestic product by up to 13 percentage points.
But pharmacists have launched a three-day strike, claiming liberalisation would drive many family-owned operations out of business.
The reforms would abolish a guaranteed profit margin of about 35pc on prescription drugs, lift curbs on the number and location of pharmacies and extend opening hours.
Turnover fell by more than 20pc last year, said one Athens pharmacist.