[ATHENS] Greece intends to meet debt payments this month and reach a deal with its international lenders to unlock remaining bailout aid, but the International Monetary Fund insists on tough labour reforms, the country's labour minister said on Monday.
Struggling amid a cash crunch, Athens faces debt repayments to the IMF totalling nearly 1 billion euros this month. It has been borrowing from municipalities and government entities to meet obligations.
Asked whether it will be in a position to make the IMF payment, Labour Minister Panos Skourletis told Mega TV: "The country has chosen to pay its obligations and reach an agreement (with lenders). We are trying to have the money." Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras's three-month-old government is under growing pressure at home and abroad to reach an agreement with European and IMF lenders over reforms to avert a national bankruptcy.
Skourletis said the IMF was unyielding on its demands for labour reforms, including pensions cuts, mass layoffs and resisting a plan by the leftist-led government to raise the minimum wage. "They (IMF) are asking us to not touch anything (from the austerity measures) that have ruined Greek people's lives in the last five years," he said.
Elected on pledges to roll back austerity, the government has been resisting further cuts in pensions and legislation that would allow mass layoffs. Unemployment remains near record highs.
Negotiations with lenders have made headway in recent days and an agreement could be closer this month, a Greek government official said on Sunday, although sticking points remain. "The IMF is the most inflexible side ... the most extreme voices of the Brussels Group," the minister said. "But there are also calmer voices."