Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Greek Freight Trucks Cause Chaos In Further Strike Action

Fuel Crisis Threatens Recovery
Shipping News Feature

GREECE – As the country’s top financial officials tour the continent to reassure European investors that the Government’s efforts at reform are still on track, the nation’s freight truckers blocked many major highways yesterday in continuing protests against what they see as an end to their monopoly on haulage throughout the country. Already overseas freight vehicles, mostly from Eastern Europe, have caused major damage to Greek firms trading abroad, and now plans to open up haulage to more competition have the drivers in revolt.

Plans to reform the transport sector are backed by the EU and the IMF but currently native companies hold licences costing €30,000 per vehicle. There have been rumbles for years that liberalisation of the industry was imminent but things have moved fast since the financial crisis broke and hauliers who have recently laid out hundreds of thousands of euros for permission to trade now see their money potentially being wasted if anyone has permission to operate.

In July striking drivers clashed with police who fired tear gas and the confrontation caused a chronic fuel shortage, stranding tourists and natives alike and closing factories. With much of the country’s agricultural produce awaiting transport fears abound that rotting fruit and vegetables will push prices up. For their part supporters of liberalisation say that for years the truckers have effectively operated a cartel and kept prices excessively high causing more inflation. As queues for fuel reach horrendous levels the Government has pegged prices at €1.473 per litre to avoid a black market price hike.

Today Parliament is due to debate commencement of the freight sector reforms in 2013, but mass demonstrations and more clashes are feared as truckers hold out for a seven year delay to any changes despite Government incentives. Already any strike action is potentially illegal as the Government resorted to emergency measures in July by issuing a ‘civil mobilisation’ procedure which effectively demands the truckers comply and this ruling is still in place.

With the economy still shrinking and debts to European lenders liable to exceed €120 billion to ensure the country does not become bankrupt, the Government will have to stick with its reform plans despite tremendously widespread resentment. Government support for native industry in the sector has already been the subject of Court action and now the European authorities will insist financial plans are adhered to.

So far the domestic sector is under the spotlight but toward the end of the last period of unrest there were reports of conflict with overseas hauliers delivering and collecting international cargo and the likely outcome will be that there will be further resentment toward foreign transport operators shipping in or out of the country.