News Archive


Amazon Germany says more worried about snow than strikes


HAMBURG (Reuters) – Amazon.com Inc has no intention of bowing to pressure from striking workers in Germany, its second biggest market behind the United States, and is more worried about bad weather hurting Christmas deliveries, its country head said.

“We are talking about a minority who take part in actions brought on by the union,” Ralf Kleber told Reuters in an interview.

“Amazon is a fair employer. Many of our workers have been with us for more than 14 years. The majority of workers would say it is a good, well-paid job.”

Trade union Verdi has staged a series of strikes this year in a dispute over pay and conditions at distribution centers in Leipzig and Bad Hersfeld. On Monday, the union said about 1,000 employees walked out, almost a fifth of the regular workforce there. Amazon said less than 800 staff had joined the strike.

“Snowfall in Germany is the bigger problem in the Christmas business … that is what gives me worry lines,” Kleber said, adding that the strikes had not affected deliveries so far.

E-commerce sales in Germany are seen growing 12 percent for the full year to 33.1 billion euros ($45 billion), expanding an even faster 15 percent in the Christmas period, when the sector should make 8.5 billion euros in sales.

Amazon employs 9,000 warehouse staff in Germany plus 14,000 seasonal workers and sales there grew almost 21 percent in 2012 to $8.7 billion, representing a third of its overseas total.

BLACK SHEEP?

The union, which plans more strikes before Christmas, wants Amazon to accept a collective agreement on pay and conditions similar to deals it has in the mail order and retail industry and accepted by Amazon’s biggest German rival, the Otto Group.

Michael Otto, chairman of the firm which has transformed itself from a mail order firm into Europe’s second biggest online retailer, said last week unnamed competitors were tarnishing the image of e-commerce with poor working conditions.

“These black sheep are trying to get to the feeding trough and are creating short-term advantages for themselves with their social dumping,” he told a retail congress in Berlin. “We need a consensus that minimum standards must be maintained.”

Amazon says it pays staff in its nine German distribution centers well according to the standards of the logistics industry, and does not think the terms of the mail order and retail sector are justified for its largely unskilled staff.

“We are a logistics company. Trucks arrive, are unloaded. Goods are sorted, packed and loaded into trucks again,” Kleber said, adding Amazon hired staff with no qualifications and many who had previously been unemployed for a long time.

A BBC documentary this week alleged that tough working conditions could threaten the health of Amazon logistics employees after an undercover reporter secretly filmed inside a British warehouse where he walked 11 miles in the course of night shift lasting 10-1/2 hours.

Kleber agreed that logistics was a demanding job, but rejected suggestions that Amazon drives staff too hard.

“People in logistics don’t want their staff to walk more. They want staff to walk less, because walking less means being more efficient,” Kleber said.

Amazon has announced recently it would build three new logistics centers in Poland and two in the Czech Republic, prompting speculation that it could seek to shift work across the border from strike-hit centers in Germany.

But Kleber said Amazon expected to keep expanding in Germany, including eventually delivering fresh groceries too, without giving a timetable. Its newest distribution center outside Berlin held its formal opening on Thursday.

“We have bonuses for the whole team rather than for the individual so nobody has an incentive to rush,” said Karsten Mueller, head of the new Brieselang center, whose 1,000 staff will shift about 110,000 parcels on a busy day.

Sorting goods in six halls spread across the area of 10 football pitches, staff work 9-1/2 hour shifts in the peak period before Christmas, including a 45-minute break, with order pickers walking an average of 8-10 km a shift.

In addition to strikes, Amazon has faced criticism in Germany for a low tax bill and from the antitrust watchdog, which forced it to stop demanding third-party merchants offer their cheapest price when selling products on its platform.

($1=0.7353 euros)

(Editing by Greg Mahlich)

Article source: http://feeds.reuters.com/~r/reuters/businessNews/~3/bDlc59zUPXg/story01.htm

Amazon Germany says more worried about snow than strikes


HAMBURG (Reuters) – Amazon.com Inc has no intention of bowing to pressure from striking workers in Germany, its second biggest market behind the United States, and is more worried about bad weather hurting Christmas deliveries, its country head said.

“We are talking about a minority who take part in actions brought on by the union,” Ralf Kleber told Reuters in an interview.

“Amazon is a fair employer. Many of our workers have been with us for more than 14 years. The majority of workers would say it is a good, well-paid job.”

Trade union Verdi has staged a series of strikes this year in a dispute over pay and conditions at distribution centers in Leipzig and Bad Hersfeld. On Monday, the union said about 1,000 employees walked out, almost a fifth of the regular workforce there. Amazon said less than 800 staff had joined the strike.

“Snowfall in Germany is the bigger problem in the Christmas business … that is what gives me worry lines,” Kleber said, adding that the strikes had not affected deliveries so far.

E-commerce sales in Germany are seen growing 12 percent for the full year to 33.1 billion euros ($45 billion), expanding an even faster 15 percent in the Christmas period, when the sector should make 8.5 billion euros in sales.

Amazon employs 9,000 warehouse staff in Germany plus 14,000 seasonal workers and sales there grew almost 21 percent in 2012 to $8.7 billion, representing a third of its overseas total.

BLACK SHEEP?

The union, which plans more strikes before Christmas, wants Amazon to accept a collective agreement on pay and conditions similar to deals it has in the mail order and retail industry and accepted by Amazon’s biggest German rival, the Otto Group.

Michael Otto, chairman of the firm which has transformed itself from a mail order firm into Europe’s second biggest online retailer, said last week unnamed competitors were tarnishing the image of e-commerce with poor working conditions.

“These black sheep are trying to get to the feeding trough and are creating short-term advantages for themselves with their social dumping,” he told a retail congress in Berlin. “We need a consensus that minimum standards must be maintained.”

Amazon says it pays staff in its nine German distribution centers well according to the standards of the logistics industry, and does not think the terms of the mail order and retail sector are justified for its largely unskilled staff.

“We are a logistics company. Trucks arrive, are unloaded. Goods are sorted, packed and loaded into trucks again,” Kleber said, adding Amazon hired staff with no qualifications and many who had previously been unemployed for a long time.

A BBC documentary this week alleged that tough working conditions could threaten the health of Amazon logistics employees after an undercover reporter secretly filmed inside a British warehouse where he walked 11 miles in the course of night shift lasting 10-1/2 hours.

Kleber agreed that logistics was a demanding job, but rejected suggestions that Amazon drives staff too hard.

“People in logistics don’t want their staff to walk more. They want staff to walk less, because walking less means being more efficient,” Kleber said.

Amazon has announced recently it would build three new logistics centers in Poland and two in the Czech Republic, prompting speculation that it could seek to shift work across the border from strike-hit centers in Germany.

But Kleber said Amazon expected to keep expanding in Germany, including eventually delivering fresh groceries too, without giving a timetable. Its newest distribution center outside Berlin held its formal opening on Thursday.

“We have bonuses for the whole team rather than for the individual so nobody has an incentive to rush,” said Karsten Mueller, head of the new Brieselang center, whose 1,000 staff will shift about 110,000 parcels on a busy day.

Sorting goods in six halls spread across the area of 10 football pitches, staff work 9-1/2 hour shifts in the peak period before Christmas, including a 45-minute break, with order pickers walking an average of 8-10 km a shift.

In addition to strikes, Amazon has faced criticism in Germany for a low tax bill and from the antitrust watchdog, which forced it to stop demanding third-party merchants offer their cheapest price when selling products on its platform.

($1=0.7353 euros)

(Editing by Greg Mahlich)

Article source: http://feeds.reuters.com/~r/reuters/businessNews/~3/bDlc59zUPXg/story01.htm

Amazon Germany says more worried about snow than strikes


HAMBURG (Reuters) – Amazon.com Inc has no intention of bowing to pressure from striking workers in Germany, its second biggest market behind the United States, and is more worried about bad weather hurting Christmas deliveries, its country head said.

“We are talking about a minority who take part in actions brought on by the union,” Ralf Kleber told Reuters in an interview.

“Amazon is a fair employer. Many of our workers have been with us for more than 14 years. The majority of workers would say it is a good, well-paid job.”

Trade union Verdi has staged a series of strikes this year in a dispute over pay and conditions at distribution centers in Leipzig and Bad Hersfeld. On Monday, the union said about 1,000 employees walked out, almost a fifth of the regular workforce there. Amazon said less than 800 staff had joined the strike.

“Snowfall in Germany is the bigger problem in the Christmas business … that is what gives me worry lines,” Kleber said, adding that the strikes had not affected deliveries so far.

E-commerce sales in Germany are seen growing 12 percent for the full year to 33.1 billion euros ($45 billion), expanding an even faster 15 percent in the Christmas period, when the sector should make 8.5 billion euros in sales.

Amazon employs 9,000 warehouse staff in Germany plus 14,000 seasonal workers and sales there grew almost 21 percent in 2012 to $8.7 billion, representing a third of its overseas total.

BLACK SHEEP?

The union, which plans more strikes before Christmas, wants Amazon to accept a collective agreement on pay and conditions similar to deals it has in the mail order and retail industry and accepted by Amazon’s biggest German rival, the Otto Group.

Michael Otto, chairman of the firm which has transformed itself from a mail order firm into Europe’s second biggest online retailer, said last week unnamed competitors were tarnishing the image of e-commerce with poor working conditions.

“These black sheep are trying to get to the feeding trough and are creating short-term advantages for themselves with their social dumping,” he told a retail congress in Berlin. “We need a consensus that minimum standards must be maintained.”

Amazon says it pays staff in its nine German distribution centers well according to the standards of the logistics industry, and does not think the terms of the mail order and retail sector are justified for its largely unskilled staff.

“We are a logistics company. Trucks arrive, are unloaded. Goods are sorted, packed and loaded into trucks again,” Kleber said, adding Amazon hired staff with no qualifications and many who had previously been unemployed for a long time.

A BBC documentary this week alleged that tough working conditions could threaten the health of Amazon logistics employees after an undercover reporter secretly filmed inside a British warehouse where he walked 11 miles in the course of night shift lasting 10-1/2 hours.

Kleber agreed that logistics was a demanding job, but rejected suggestions that Amazon drives staff too hard.

“People in logistics don’t want their staff to walk more. They want staff to walk less, because walking less means being more efficient,” Kleber said.

Amazon has announced recently it would build three new logistics centers in Poland and two in the Czech Republic, prompting speculation that it could seek to shift work across the border from strike-hit centers in Germany.

But Kleber said Amazon expected to keep expanding in Germany, including eventually delivering fresh groceries too, without giving a timetable. Its newest distribution center outside Berlin held its formal opening on Thursday.

“We have bonuses for the whole team rather than for the individual so nobody has an incentive to rush,” said Karsten Mueller, head of the new Brieselang center, whose 1,000 staff will shift about 110,000 parcels on a busy day.

Sorting goods in six halls spread across the area of 10 football pitches, staff work 9-1/2 hour shifts in the peak period before Christmas, including a 45-minute break, with order pickers walking an average of 8-10 km a shift.

In addition to strikes, Amazon has faced criticism in Germany for a low tax bill and from the antitrust watchdog, which forced it to stop demanding third-party merchants offer their cheapest price when selling products on its platform.

($1=0.7353 euros)

(Editing by Greg Mahlich)

Article source: http://feeds.reuters.com/~r/reuters/businessNews/~3/bDlc59zUPXg/story01.htm

Amazon Germany says more worried about snow than strikes


HAMBURG (Reuters) – Amazon.com Inc has no intention of bowing to pressure from striking workers in Germany, its second biggest market behind the United States, and is more worried about bad weather hurting Christmas deliveries, its country head said.

“We are talking about a minority who take part in actions brought on by the union,” Ralf Kleber told Reuters in an interview.

“Amazon is a fair employer. Many of our workers have been with us for more than 14 years. The majority of workers would say it is a good, well-paid job.”

Trade union Verdi has staged a series of strikes this year in a dispute over pay and conditions at distribution centers in Leipzig and Bad Hersfeld. On Monday, the union said about 1,000 employees walked out, almost a fifth of the regular workforce there. Amazon said less than 800 staff had joined the strike.

“Snowfall in Germany is the bigger problem in the Christmas business … that is what gives me worry lines,” Kleber said, adding that the strikes had not affected deliveries so far.

E-commerce sales in Germany are seen growing 12 percent for the full year to 33.1 billion euros ($45 billion), expanding an even faster 15 percent in the Christmas period, when the sector should make 8.5 billion euros in sales.

Amazon employs 9,000 warehouse staff in Germany plus 14,000 seasonal workers and sales there grew almost 21 percent in 2012 to $8.7 billion, representing a third of its overseas total.

BLACK SHEEP?

The union, which plans more strikes before Christmas, wants Amazon to accept a collective agreement on pay and conditions similar to deals it has in the mail order and retail industry and accepted by Amazon’s biggest German rival, the Otto Group.

Michael Otto, chairman of the firm which has transformed itself from a mail order firm into Europe’s second biggest online retailer, said last week unnamed competitors were tarnishing the image of e-commerce with poor working conditions.

“These black sheep are trying to get to the feeding trough and are creating short-term advantages for themselves with their social dumping,” he told a retail congress in Berlin. “We need a consensus that minimum standards must be maintained.”

Amazon says it pays staff in its nine German distribution centers well according to the standards of the logistics industry, and does not think the terms of the mail order and retail sector are justified for its largely unskilled staff.

“We are a logistics company. Trucks arrive, are unloaded. Goods are sorted, packed and loaded into trucks again,” Kleber said, adding Amazon hired staff with no qualifications and many who had previously been unemployed for a long time.

A BBC documentary this week alleged that tough working conditions could threaten the health of Amazon logistics employees after an undercover reporter secretly filmed inside a British warehouse where he walked 11 miles in the course of night shift lasting 10-1/2 hours.

Kleber agreed that logistics was a demanding job, but rejected suggestions that Amazon drives staff too hard.

“People in logistics don’t want their staff to walk more. They want staff to walk less, because walking less means being more efficient,” Kleber said.

Amazon has announced recently it would build three new logistics centers in Poland and two in the Czech Republic, prompting speculation that it could seek to shift work across the border from strike-hit centers in Germany.

But Kleber said Amazon expected to keep expanding in Germany, including eventually delivering fresh groceries too, without giving a timetable. Its newest distribution center outside Berlin held its formal opening on Thursday.

“We have bonuses for the whole team rather than for the individual so nobody has an incentive to rush,” said Karsten Mueller, head of the new Brieselang center, whose 1,000 staff will shift about 110,000 parcels on a busy day.

Sorting goods in six halls spread across the area of 10 football pitches, staff work 9-1/2 hour shifts in the peak period before Christmas, including a 45-minute break, with order pickers walking an average of 8-10 km a shift.

In addition to strikes, Amazon has faced criticism in Germany for a low tax bill and from the antitrust watchdog, which forced it to stop demanding third-party merchants offer their cheapest price when selling products on its platform.

($1=0.7353 euros)

(Editing by Greg Mahlich)

Article source: http://feeds.reuters.com/~r/reuters/businessNews/~3/bDlc59zUPXg/story01.htm

Amazon Germany says more worried about snow than strikes


HAMBURG (Reuters) – Amazon.com Inc has no intention of bowing to pressure from striking workers in Germany, its second biggest market behind the United States, and is more worried about bad weather hurting Christmas deliveries, its country head said.

“We are talking about a minority who take part in actions brought on by the union,” Ralf Kleber told Reuters in an interview.

“Amazon is a fair employer. Many of our workers have been with us for more than 14 years. The majority of workers would say it is a good, well-paid job.”

Trade union Verdi has staged a series of strikes this year in a dispute over pay and conditions at distribution centers in Leipzig and Bad Hersfeld. On Monday, the union said about 1,000 employees walked out, almost a fifth of the regular workforce there. Amazon said less than 800 staff had joined the strike.

“Snowfall in Germany is the bigger problem in the Christmas business … that is what gives me worry lines,” Kleber said, adding that the strikes had not affected deliveries so far.

E-commerce sales in Germany are seen growing 12 percent for the full year to 33.1 billion euros ($45 billion), expanding an even faster 15 percent in the Christmas period, when the sector should make 8.5 billion euros in sales.

Amazon employs 9,000 warehouse staff in Germany plus 14,000 seasonal workers and sales there grew almost 21 percent in 2012 to $8.7 billion, representing a third of its overseas total.

BLACK SHEEP?

The union, which plans more strikes before Christmas, wants Amazon to accept a collective agreement on pay and conditions similar to deals it has in the mail order and retail industry and accepted by Amazon’s biggest German rival, the Otto Group.

Michael Otto, chairman of the firm which has transformed itself from a mail order firm into Europe’s second biggest online retailer, said last week unnamed competitors were tarnishing the image of e-commerce with poor working conditions.

“These black sheep are trying to get to the feeding trough and are creating short-term advantages for themselves with their social dumping,” he told a retail congress in Berlin. “We need a consensus that minimum standards must be maintained.”

Amazon says it pays staff in its nine German distribution centers well according to the standards of the logistics industry, and does not think the terms of the mail order and retail sector are justified for its largely unskilled staff.

“We are a logistics company. Trucks arrive, are unloaded. Goods are sorted, packed and loaded into trucks again,” Kleber said, adding Amazon hired staff with no qualifications and many who had previously been unemployed for a long time.

A BBC documentary this week alleged that tough working conditions could threaten the health of Amazon logistics employees after an undercover reporter secretly filmed inside a British warehouse where he walked 11 miles in the course of night shift lasting 10-1/2 hours.

Kleber agreed that logistics was a demanding job, but rejected suggestions that Amazon drives staff too hard.

“People in logistics don’t want their staff to walk more. They want staff to walk less, because walking less means being more efficient,” Kleber said.

Amazon has announced recently it would build three new logistics centers in Poland and two in the Czech Republic, prompting speculation that it could seek to shift work across the border from strike-hit centers in Germany.

But Kleber said Amazon expected to keep expanding in Germany, including eventually delivering fresh groceries too, without giving a timetable. Its newest distribution center outside Berlin held its formal opening on Thursday.

“We have bonuses for the whole team rather than for the individual so nobody has an incentive to rush,” said Karsten Mueller, head of the new Brieselang center, whose 1,000 staff will shift about 110,000 parcels on a busy day.

Sorting goods in six halls spread across the area of 10 football pitches, staff work 9-1/2 hour shifts in the peak period before Christmas, including a 45-minute break, with order pickers walking an average of 8-10 km a shift.

In addition to strikes, Amazon has faced criticism in Germany for a low tax bill and from the antitrust watchdog, which forced it to stop demanding third-party merchants offer their cheapest price when selling products on its platform.

($1=0.7353 euros)

(Editing by Greg Mahlich)

Article source: http://feeds.reuters.com/~r/reuters/businessNews/~3/bDlc59zUPXg/story01.htm

EU-IMF postpone visit to Athens in dispute over reforms


BRUSSELS/ATHENS (Reuters) – Inspectors from the EU and IMF have postponed a planned visit to Greece, officials told Reuters on Friday, a move that marks a new low in relations between the parties and could delay aid payments to Athens.

The Greek government said it still expects differences with the troika to be bridged.

The decision to postpone the visit may be an attempt by the European Central Bank, European Commission and International Monetary Fund – together known as the ‘troika’ – to try to bring Athens to heel as frustration grows over Greece’s failure to complete the reforms it has promised in return for aid.

It is a potential embarrassment for the Greek government, which wants to be able to show it is hitting its targets and bouncing back before it takes over the rotating presidency of the European Union for six months from the start of next year.

The troika visits Athens regularly to check on progress on its bailout commitments and take decisions on whether to release further installments of loans, with frequent standoffs over whether Greece is meeting its obligations.

The inspectors had been due to assess Greece’s progress before the Eurogroup of euro zone finance ministers meets on December 9. That meeting will decide whether to approve the disbursement of the next tranche of aid.

“It has to be clear that there is a chance of reaching agreement with Athens about reforms before the troika goes over there,” said one official.

He and a second euro zone official said the postponement could delay the approval of the next tranche, although the announcement may also spur Athens into action.

Greece’s finance minister Yannis Stournaras said late on Friday that junior staff of the troika would return to Athens next week, as planned, and its heads would arrive after the Eurogroup meeting, aiming to complete talks by the end of the year.

“This (the postponement) isn’t troubling me,” he told reporters according to a finance ministry statement. “The troika will come after the Eurogroup with the aim to conclude (an agreement) by the end of the year.”

Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said last week he wanted the review to finish before Athens assumes the Presidency.

A spokesman for the European Commission said discussions with Athens would continue. “We have not yet taken a decision on precisely when the mission will return,” he said.

TROUBLE WITH THE TROIKA

While it’s possible the differences will be bridged in the coming days, Greece has no immediate funding pressures and can probably delay on reforms for a while longer.

Athens is due to receive up to 5.9 billion euros ($8 billion) of loans by the end of the year, according to the latest schedule published by its creditors.

About 1.85 billion euros of Greek bonds mature on January 11, according to Thomson Reuters data. The next big bond maturities, worth about 9.3 billion euros, are in May next year.

Stournaras said on Friday he would focus on resolving issues that would release 1 billion euros of that money, which are mainly linked to the partial or entire closure of three loss-making state companies and plans to transfer or dismiss thousands of underperforming or unneeded civil servants.

The troika’s current review has been dragging on since September and has already been interrupted twice, due to the reluctance of Greece’s fragile, austerity-weary coalition government to adopt any more unpopular measures to satisfy lenders.

Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem said earlier this month that some European finance ministers are “losing patience”.

By contrast, Ireland has met all its obligations and is about to emerge from its rescue program.

Athens has already obtained about 216 billion euros of its 240 billion euro bailout, meaning that about 80 percent of its debt is in the hands of the EU and the IMF.

In exchange for the loans, it is near balancing its budget, taking measures that have induced a six-year recession and a record unemployment rate of more than 27 percent.

The Greek parliament is due to vote its 2014 budget on December 7. Lenders said this month that unless it found new savings, Athens would miss its surplus target by about 2 billion euros. But Stournaras said this week that the difference had narrowed to about 1 billion.

The chances are that if that gap can be narrowed in the coming days, the troika will immediately reschedule its visit.

Apart from the 2014 budget, Greece and its lenders still have to agree on an updated fiscal strategy for 2014-2017 and a new version of an unpopular property tax.

The troika is also pushing Greece to soften restrictions on large-scale corporate firings, as well as on bank foreclosures of first homes. Many government lawmakers have vowed to block or water down these reforms.

($1 = 0.7345 euros)

(Editing by Ruth Pitchford)

Article source: http://feeds.reuters.com/~r/reuters/businessNews/~3/Np4eFASiy0Q/story01.htm

EU-IMF postpone visit to Athens in dispute over reforms


BRUSSELS/ATHENS (Reuters) – Inspectors from the EU and IMF have postponed a planned visit to Greece, officials told Reuters on Friday, a move that marks a new low in relations between the parties and could delay aid payments to Athens.

The Greek government said it still expects differences with the troika to be bridged.

The decision to postpone the visit may be an attempt by the European Central Bank, European Commission and International Monetary Fund – together known as the ‘troika’ – to try to bring Athens to heel as frustration grows over Greece’s failure to complete the reforms it has promised in return for aid.

It is a potential embarrassment for the Greek government, which wants to be able to show it is hitting its targets and bouncing back before it takes over the rotating presidency of the European Union for six months from the start of next year.

The troika visits Athens regularly to check on progress on its bailout commitments and take decisions on whether to release further installments of loans, with frequent standoffs over whether Greece is meeting its obligations.

The inspectors had been due to assess Greece’s progress before the Eurogroup of euro zone finance ministers meets on December 9. That meeting will decide whether to approve the disbursement of the next tranche of aid.

“It has to be clear that there is a chance of reaching agreement with Athens about reforms before the troika goes over there,” said one official.

He and a second euro zone official said the postponement could delay the approval of the next tranche, although the announcement may also spur Athens into action.

Greece’s finance minister Yannis Stournaras said late on Friday that junior staff of the troika would return to Athens next week, as planned, and its heads would arrive after the Eurogroup meeting, aiming to complete talks by the end of the year.

“This (the postponement) isn’t troubling me,” he told reporters according to a finance ministry statement. “The troika will come after the Eurogroup with the aim to conclude (an agreement) by the end of the year.”

Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said last week he wanted the review to finish before Athens assumes the Presidency.

A spokesman for the European Commission said discussions with Athens would continue. “We have not yet taken a decision on precisely when the mission will return,” he said.

TROUBLE WITH THE TROIKA

While it’s possible the differences will be bridged in the coming days, Greece has no immediate funding pressures and can probably delay on reforms for a while longer.

Athens is due to receive up to 5.9 billion euros ($8 billion) of loans by the end of the year, according to the latest schedule published by its creditors.

About 1.85 billion euros of Greek bonds mature on January 11, according to Thomson Reuters data. The next big bond maturities, worth about 9.3 billion euros, are in May next year.

Stournaras said on Friday he would focus on resolving issues that would release 1 billion euros of that money, which are mainly linked to the partial or entire closure of three loss-making state companies and plans to transfer or dismiss thousands of underperforming or unneeded civil servants.

The troika’s current review has been dragging on since September and has already been interrupted twice, due to the reluctance of Greece’s fragile, austerity-weary coalition government to adopt any more unpopular measures to satisfy lenders.

Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem said earlier this month that some European finance ministers are “losing patience”.

By contrast, Ireland has met all its obligations and is about to emerge from its rescue program.

Athens has already obtained about 216 billion euros of its 240 billion euro bailout, meaning that about 80 percent of its debt is in the hands of the EU and the IMF.

In exchange for the loans, it is near balancing its budget, taking measures that have induced a six-year recession and a record unemployment rate of more than 27 percent.

The Greek parliament is due to vote its 2014 budget on December 7. Lenders said this month that unless it found new savings, Athens would miss its surplus target by about 2 billion euros. But Stournaras said this week that the difference had narrowed to about 1 billion.

The chances are that if that gap can be narrowed in the coming days, the troika will immediately reschedule its visit.

Apart from the 2014 budget, Greece and its lenders still have to agree on an updated fiscal strategy for 2014-2017 and a new version of an unpopular property tax.

The troika is also pushing Greece to soften restrictions on large-scale corporate firings, as well as on bank foreclosures of first homes. Many government lawmakers have vowed to block or water down these reforms.

($1 = 0.7345 euros)

(Editing by Ruth Pitchford)

Article source: http://feeds.reuters.com/~r/reuters/businessNews/~3/Np4eFASiy0Q/story01.htm

EU-IMF postpone visit to Athens in dispute over reforms


BRUSSELS/ATHENS (Reuters) – Inspectors from the EU and IMF have postponed a planned visit to Greece, officials told Reuters on Friday, a move that marks a new low in relations between the parties and could delay aid payments to Athens.

The Greek government said it still expects differences with the troika to be bridged.

The decision to postpone the visit may be an attempt by the European Central Bank, European Commission and International Monetary Fund – together known as the ‘troika’ – to try to bring Athens to heel as frustration grows over Greece’s failure to complete the reforms it has promised in return for aid.

It is a potential embarrassment for the Greek government, which wants to be able to show it is hitting its targets and bouncing back before it takes over the rotating presidency of the European Union for six months from the start of next year.

The troika visits Athens regularly to check on progress on its bailout commitments and take decisions on whether to release further installments of loans, with frequent standoffs over whether Greece is meeting its obligations.

The inspectors had been due to assess Greece’s progress before the Eurogroup of euro zone finance ministers meets on December 9. That meeting will decide whether to approve the disbursement of the next tranche of aid.

“It has to be clear that there is a chance of reaching agreement with Athens about reforms before the troika goes over there,” said one official.

He and a second euro zone official said the postponement could delay the approval of the next tranche, although the announcement may also spur Athens into action.

Greece’s finance minister Yannis Stournaras said late on Friday that junior staff of the troika would return to Athens next week, as planned, and its heads would arrive after the Eurogroup meeting, aiming to complete talks by the end of the year.

“This (the postponement) isn’t troubling me,” he told reporters according to a finance ministry statement. “The troika will come after the Eurogroup with the aim to conclude (an agreement) by the end of the year.”

Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said last week he wanted the review to finish before Athens assumes the Presidency.

A spokesman for the European Commission said discussions with Athens would continue. “We have not yet taken a decision on precisely when the mission will return,” he said.

TROUBLE WITH THE TROIKA

While it’s possible the differences will be bridged in the coming days, Greece has no immediate funding pressures and can probably delay on reforms for a while longer.

Athens is due to receive up to 5.9 billion euros ($8 billion) of loans by the end of the year, according to the latest schedule published by its creditors.

About 1.85 billion euros of Greek bonds mature on January 11, according to Thomson Reuters data. The next big bond maturities, worth about 9.3 billion euros, are in May next year.

Stournaras said on Friday he would focus on resolving issues that would release 1 billion euros of that money, which are mainly linked to the partial or entire closure of three loss-making state companies and plans to transfer or dismiss thousands of underperforming or unneeded civil servants.

The troika’s current review has been dragging on since September and has already been interrupted twice, due to the reluctance of Greece’s fragile, austerity-weary coalition government to adopt any more unpopular measures to satisfy lenders.

Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem said earlier this month that some European finance ministers are “losing patience”.

By contrast, Ireland has met all its obligations and is about to emerge from its rescue program.

Athens has already obtained about 216 billion euros of its 240 billion euro bailout, meaning that about 80 percent of its debt is in the hands of the EU and the IMF.

In exchange for the loans, it is near balancing its budget, taking measures that have induced a six-year recession and a record unemployment rate of more than 27 percent.

The Greek parliament is due to vote its 2014 budget on December 7. Lenders said this month that unless it found new savings, Athens would miss its surplus target by about 2 billion euros. But Stournaras said this week that the difference had narrowed to about 1 billion.

The chances are that if that gap can be narrowed in the coming days, the troika will immediately reschedule its visit.

Apart from the 2014 budget, Greece and its lenders still have to agree on an updated fiscal strategy for 2014-2017 and a new version of an unpopular property tax.

The troika is also pushing Greece to soften restrictions on large-scale corporate firings, as well as on bank foreclosures of first homes. Many government lawmakers have vowed to block or water down these reforms.

($1 = 0.7345 euros)

(Editing by Ruth Pitchford)

Article source: http://feeds.reuters.com/~r/reuters/businessNews/~3/Np4eFASiy0Q/story01.htm

EU-IMF postpone visit to Athens in dispute over reforms


BRUSSELS/ATHENS (Reuters) – Inspectors from the EU and IMF have postponed a planned visit to Greece, officials told Reuters on Friday, a move that marks a new low in relations between the parties and could delay aid payments to Athens.

The Greek government said it still expects differences with the troika to be bridged.

The decision to postpone the visit may be an attempt by the European Central Bank, European Commission and International Monetary Fund – together known as the ‘troika’ – to try to bring Athens to heel as frustration grows over Greece’s failure to complete the reforms it has promised in return for aid.

It is a potential embarrassment for the Greek government, which wants to be able to show it is hitting its targets and bouncing back before it takes over the rotating presidency of the European Union for six months from the start of next year.

The troika visits Athens regularly to check on progress on its bailout commitments and take decisions on whether to release further installments of loans, with frequent standoffs over whether Greece is meeting its obligations.

The inspectors had been due to assess Greece’s progress before the Eurogroup of euro zone finance ministers meets on December 9. That meeting will decide whether to approve the disbursement of the next tranche of aid.

“It has to be clear that there is a chance of reaching agreement with Athens about reforms before the troika goes over there,” said one official.

He and a second euro zone official said the postponement could delay the approval of the next tranche, although the announcement may also spur Athens into action.

Greece’s finance minister Yannis Stournaras said late on Friday that junior staff of the troika would return to Athens next week, as planned, and its heads would arrive after the Eurogroup meeting, aiming to complete talks by the end of the year.

“This (the postponement) isn’t troubling me,” he told reporters according to a finance ministry statement. “The troika will come after the Eurogroup with the aim to conclude (an agreement) by the end of the year.”

Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said last week he wanted the review to finish before Athens assumes the Presidency.

A spokesman for the European Commission said discussions with Athens would continue. “We have not yet taken a decision on precisely when the mission will return,” he said.

TROUBLE WITH THE TROIKA

While it’s possible the differences will be bridged in the coming days, Greece has no immediate funding pressures and can probably delay on reforms for a while longer.

Athens is due to receive up to 5.9 billion euros ($8 billion) of loans by the end of the year, according to the latest schedule published by its creditors.

About 1.85 billion euros of Greek bonds mature on January 11, according to Thomson Reuters data. The next big bond maturities, worth about 9.3 billion euros, are in May next year.

Stournaras said on Friday he would focus on resolving issues that would release 1 billion euros of that money, which are mainly linked to the partial or entire closure of three loss-making state companies and plans to transfer or dismiss thousands of underperforming or unneeded civil servants.

The troika’s current review has been dragging on since September and has already been interrupted twice, due to the reluctance of Greece’s fragile, austerity-weary coalition government to adopt any more unpopular measures to satisfy lenders.

Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem said earlier this month that some European finance ministers are “losing patience”.

By contrast, Ireland has met all its obligations and is about to emerge from its rescue program.

Athens has already obtained about 216 billion euros of its 240 billion euro bailout, meaning that about 80 percent of its debt is in the hands of the EU and the IMF.

In exchange for the loans, it is near balancing its budget, taking measures that have induced a six-year recession and a record unemployment rate of more than 27 percent.

The Greek parliament is due to vote its 2014 budget on December 7. Lenders said this month that unless it found new savings, Athens would miss its surplus target by about 2 billion euros. But Stournaras said this week that the difference had narrowed to about 1 billion.

The chances are that if that gap can be narrowed in the coming days, the troika will immediately reschedule its visit.

Apart from the 2014 budget, Greece and its lenders still have to agree on an updated fiscal strategy for 2014-2017 and a new version of an unpopular property tax.

The troika is also pushing Greece to soften restrictions on large-scale corporate firings, as well as on bank foreclosures of first homes. Many government lawmakers have vowed to block or water down these reforms.

($1 = 0.7345 euros)

(Editing by Ruth Pitchford)

Article source: http://feeds.reuters.com/~r/reuters/businessNews/~3/Np4eFASiy0Q/story01.htm