Invoking a civil mobilization order for the second time in as many weeks, the government on Tuesday called on striking seamen to return to work after unionists decided to extend a six-day walkout that has cut off the country’s islands and left tons of perishable goods in ports.
Merchant Marine Minister Costas Mousouroulis announced the emergency measure after talks with unionists collapsed and seamen called the third 48-hour strike in a row, voting by a narrow margin to extend their action until Friday morning.
Mousouroulis said the government had secured a commitment from shipowners to launch talks on a collective labor contract and on the release of back pay. He said however that demands for the withdrawal of a draft bill aimed at overhauling the coastal shipping sector could not be satisfied. “Unfortunately sclerotic and petty political views prevailed,” he said.
Officials were to start distributing civil mobilization documents to strikers last night. Meanwhile unionists were gathering at the port of Piraeus to protest the measure which came less than two weeks after the government forced Athens metro staff back to work following an eight-day walkout. The country’s two main labor unions called a 24-hour Attica-wide strike for Wednesday in solidarity with striking seamen.
The decision to resort to civil mobilization again, issued from the office of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, reportedly had the backing of the coalition partners, PASOK and Democratic Left. But it drew harsh opposition criticism. Panayiotis Lafazanis of leftist SYRIZA accused the government of “turning parliamentary democracy into a particular kind of parliamentary junta favoring capital over the workers,” while the Communist Party (KKE) spoke of “unbridled authoritarianism.”
Government sources said unions affiliated with KKE were set on provoking a clash irrespective of the outcome of negotiations.
Meanwhile a vehement dispute has broken out between the seamen and farmers on Crete, with producers on Monday forcing their way onto a moored ferry and coercing the crew into sailing to Piraeus.