Striking port workers prevent hundreds of passengers from boarding ferries in Greece, despite a court ruling declaring their strike illegal.
Strikers disrupt ferries in Greek port
ATHENS, GREECE // Striking port workers prevented hundreds of passengers from boarding ferries heading from Greece's main port of Piraeus to Aegean holiday islands today, despite a court order declaring their strike illegal. Tempers frayed at the port next to Athens, with passengers arguing and occasionally scuffling with strikers who prevented them from accessing the ships. Greek passengers booed strikers chanting slogans and blocking ferry gangplanks, while foreign tourists sat despondently on their suitcases. "We can't go to Santorini and we have the hotel paid, and if we don't take these boats, we lose a lot of money," said Claudia, a Spanish tourist. One striking union member, Savvas Tsiboglou, told Antenna radio that workers would continue their action, and that the passengers who were seeing their travel plans disrupted "are the victims of the government". Only two of 14 unions represented in the main port workers' umbrella union had said they wanted to participate in Wednesday's 24-hour strike, called by PAME, a Communist Party-backed labour group. The union is protesting government austerity measures designed to pull Greece out of a financial crisis that saw it come to the brink of default last month. Unions representing several sectors, including hospital staff, construction workers, accountants and the food industry, joined the PAME strike, while state television pulled all programming off the air for 24 hours. Railway workers were also carrying out two-hour work stoppages during the day, disrupting inter-city trains. Hundreds of strikers marched through central Athens, chanting slogans and holding banners calling for a general uprising and for the government to call off the austerity measures. But it is the scenes at Piraeus that are likely to cause the most concern. The ferry disruption comes as Greece's main tourist season gets into full swing and will horrify those who work in the vital tourist industry, which has already seen a drop in bookings due to the financial crisis. Industry experts say bookings are down by an average of about 10-12 per cent this season, following deadly riots that left three people dead last month in Athens when a protest against painful austerity measures turned violent. The unions striking in Piraeus "do not understand that our economy is in a dire condition, as is the coastal shipping family," an association representing ferry companies said late on Tuesday. With tourism accounting for more than 15 per cent of Greece's gross domestic product and one in five jobs, the government is anxious to attract more foreign visitors. In an attempt to assuage fears of disrupted holidays, the culture and tourism minister Pavlos Geroulanos pledged the state would cover the extra costs of any visitors who become stranded due to strikes or even natural disasters. But on Wednesday, his ministry did not immediately have details of how tourists stranded in Athens because of the port strike could claim for their extra room expenses. It also did not have details of whether travellers would be compensated for potential hotel cancellation fees on islands they were unable to get to, or how much the port strike was likely to cost the government. Greece's budget and debt crisis saw it narrowly avoid bankruptcy last month by using the first instalment of a US$130 billion (Dh477b) package of rescue loans from the European Union and International Monetary Fund. To secure the rescue loans, the centre-left government slashed pensions and civil sector pay, and increased consumer taxes. * AP