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Truckers suspend strike, to talk with government

Greek truckers say they have suspended their seven-day strike to enter talks with government over opening up their closed-shop profession.

world Updated: Aug 02, 2010 10:48 IST

Greek truckers say they have suspended their seven-day strike to enter talks with government over opening up their closed-shop profession.

The strike caused major disruptions in fuel and food deliveries, and led thousands of tourists to postpone planned holidays to Greece.

"In light of the problems created from our strike ... we acted responsibly and decided by a close margin to stop the strike," truckers' union president Giorgos Tzortzatos told reporters on Sunday.

"We will be behind the wheel again starting 7 a.m. on Monday." The strike fizzled over the weekend after the government began commandeering the strikers' vehicles and using army trucks to deliver fuel supplies to airports, hospitals and power stations. By Sunday afternoon gas stations in Athens and in Greece's second city of Thessaloniki were stocked with fuel, and refineries were staying open around the clock to guarantee deliveries countrywide. The union's executive met for nearly six hours Sunday, as increasing numbers of truckers accepted government orders to get back to work.

Police escorted some deliveries to guard against possible reprisals by hardline strikers, after some truckers had reported intimidation by their striking colleagues.

Government spokesman Giorgos Petalotis said the government might take similar action if the union called for another strike. "We have an obligation to keep the markets open," he said. The government said Sunday its plan to open the trucking profession up to nonunion members was nonnegotiable, despite objections by union haulers who say the move would destroy their future prospects.

From the 1950s to 1971 successive Greek governments issued free truck licenses as a means of dispensing political favors, and no new operating licenses have been issued since. Instead, the old ones are transferred on the open market at rising prices.

The government said it would discuss compensating truckers who paid hundreds of thousands of euros for a license and would see their investments devalued.

Opening up certain closed professions is a central demand of the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, which provided Greece with euro110 billion ($143.5 billion) in emergency loans. Other professional industries facing such change include pharmacists, chartered accountants, architects and taxi drivers. The government will likely introduce legislation in September, according to an adviser to Prime Minister George Papandreou who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the issue.