Greek pharmacies to indefinitely strike over deal with bailout lenders

ATHENS, Greece – Greece’s pharmacies are set to close indefinitely later this week in protest at a recent deal between the government and bailout lenders to deregulate store licenses.

Kyriakos Theodosiadis, leader of the Panhellenic Pharmacies’ Association, said Monday that the government is planning to sweep away longstanding licensing controls to allow the creation of pharmacy chains and outlets in supermarkets.

As a result, he said the government had reneged on assurances made to the association and the union would commence its latest strike on Wednesday. The government is expected to submit legislation on major market reforms by the end of the week.

“These provisions (in the upcoming bill) are totally beyond any common sense,” Theodosiadis said. “They will destroy Greek pharmacies, public health, and Greek society itself … Let those politicians who support this bill hand out medicine to the public.”

Bailout lenders reached the deal with the government last week after seven months. They agreed to restart loan payouts in return for new measures that shifted the focus from public spending cuts to overhauling market rules, which the debt inspectors regard as overly protective.

After a deep recession that started in 2008 , Greece is widely predicted to start growing, albeit modestly, soon. But the ground to be made up is huge, with the Greek economy nearly a quarter smaller than it was and unemployment at more than 27 per cent. The crisis has also seen hundreds of thousands of Greeks lose their state-backed health insurance, as most benefits expire after a year of unemployment.

Pharmacists argue that current licensing rules ensure that residents in remote parts of the country, including villages and islands, have ample access to medicines while city-dwellers are also well served by a rotation system that keeps drug dispensers open overnight in every neighbourhood.

But opponents maintain pharmacists have been coddled with protective licensing limits and generous minimum profit margins — an example of practices that hurt competition in the crisis-hit country.

The Health Ministry described Monday’s decision as a mistake, arguing that it succeeded in “tough negotiations” with lenders and secured a number of key demands made by pharmacy owners.

Greece’s largest labour union, the GSEE has called a general strike on April 9, also in opposition to the latest agreement with lenders.

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