ATHENS, Greece (eTN) – Workers at Greece’s troubled Olympic Airlines staged a 24-hour strike Thursday to protest government plans to privatize the company forcing the cancellation of 96 international and domestic flights.

The strike came as Greek lawmakers started debating draft legislation on a 1.3 billion euros (US$1.69 billion) voluntary retirement and relocation scheme for the company’s employees, which Olympic unions oppose.

The government is offering state jobs and benefits to Olympic’s roughly 8,100 workers but has said no one is guaranteed employment at the privatized airline.

Olympic workers strongly oppose plans to privatize the airline, which has accumulated total losses of around 2.7 billion euros (US$3.87 billion). Last month, the European Union approved Greece’s plan to break up the airline and fully privatize it by the end of 2009. But the EU said Olympic must pay back state subsidies worth 850 million euros (US$1.22 million).

Qatar Airways has expressed interest in buying the airline, Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis confirmed during a weekend visit to the Middle Eastern country. Unions have said they oppose the prospect.

The cancelled flights were mainly to Greek destinations but also included some on routes to Britain, Germany, Belgium, Italy, and France.

Protesting Olympic workers have walked onto the runway at Athens airport several times in recent weeks, sometimes briefly disrupting flights and forcing planes to circle the airport.