Unemployment in Greece hit new record highs in March as government officials wrangled over tough new austerity measures required to tap the country’s rescue funds.

The jobless rate increased to 16.2 percent in March from 15.9 percent in February, the country’s statistics agency said yesterday. The total number of Greeks out of work was 811 340, up 40 percent from a year earlier, when the unemployment rate was 11.6 percent.

March’s rate is the highest level of joblessness recorded since the statistics agency began issuing figures in 2004.

The government had projected an overall unemployment rate of 14.5 percent for this year in its 2011 budget.

The situation is expected to get worse as the government imposes yet more austerity measures to meet targets set out in the agreement for Greece’s e110 billion (R1.1 trillion) package of rescue loans.

Cutbacks and tax increases taken over the past year have already led to anger among workers and unions, which has been compounded by the realisation that the measures did not produced all of the results they were expected to.

Ministers are now tussling over the details of additional cutbacks and tax hikes and a mid-term programme to run until 2015, two years beyond the government’s mandate.

The government is pushing through a e50bn privatisation programme that includes public utilities. Workers at state firms facing privatisation have called a strike against the plan for today.

Prime Minister George Papandreou is also faced with increasing frustration from within his own Socialist party – and among his ministers – over the new austerity. Several Socialist legislators have criticised the measures, although none have said outright they oppose the plan, due to be voted on by month-end. – Sapa-AP