NS (Reuters) - Some Greek truckers complied with a government order to return to work after a five-day strike on Saturday, relieving fuel-starved petrol stations and officials now expect the disruption to ease markedly.
Greeces 33,000 truckers have been fighting the socialist governments move to open up their profession and cut the price of licences to own and operate trucks, part of structural reforms to make the debt-laden economy more competitive. Truckers have lined lorries on the side of roads since Monday, disrupting fuel supplies during the busy summer tourism season in defiance of the government. Their walk-out caused long queues at fuel stations and hurt harvests, imports and exports.
The situation is slowly returning to normal. More than 250 petrol stations in Athens and more than 70 in Thessaloniki are so far fully supplied. Some truckers are returning to work, joining oil company lorries to relieve the shortage, said a Transport Ministry official who declined to be named.
The navy is helping out with supplies to the islands, we expect the situation will be much improved by Monday, he said.
Road tankers were loading up with fuel at key refineries, unobstructed by the striking truckers and no clashes were reported. Army trucks were also providing fuel supplies to strategic sectors including airports and power plants.
Hauliers risk criminal prosecution and losing their licences after the government invoked emergency powers on Wednesday, taking an unusually tough stance to order them to get back behind the wheel, citing public health risks from the lack of food, fuel and medicines delivered to retailers.
We will appeal the mobilisation order on Monday on legal grounds, the head of the truckers union George Tzortzatos told Reuters, adding only a few truckers had so far returned to work. Road freight is one of the most closed professions in Greece with no new licences issued for nearly 40 years. Those in circulation are sold from person to person for hundreds of thousands of euros. The government plans to cut their price.
Under a 110-billion euro ($143.5 billion) EU/IMF bailout plan, Greece must open up the road freight industry to competition by September and liberalise other closed professions, such as lawyers and architects, by June 2011.
Fully opening up the countrys 70 or so closfed professions would boost GDP by 10 percent in five years and by some 17 percent in the long-run, when including the impact on the labour market, according to the Athens-based IOBE think-tank.