ECONOMY

In Brief

Insurance firms launch new round of car premium rises Starved of cash, insurance companies began announcing further rises in car premiums estimated to amount up to 10 percent, with effect from February 1. Ethniki General Insurance, the largest firm, opened the new round, and Phoenix, Aspis, Interamerican and Allianz are projected to follow in coming days. The new rises come soon after the average 5-percent increases last month, which were limited in response to a request by the government, anxious to prevent an excessive burden on the 2002 inflation index. The new rises will be accompanied by reductions in premium bonuses, estimated to amount to a further, indirect, 14-percent rise. Firms argue that bonuses for good drivers are too large, rising to as much as 32 percent – against 25 percent in Germany, for instance – in a sector which is their biggest loss maker. Drivers that do not cause an accident for two years will now have to pay 92 percent of the original premium, against 88 percent previously. Cement plant standoff starts melting down Relations between management and unions in the AGET Heracles cement plant in Halkida appeared to be improving yesterday, after the company withdrew its court application for laying off the local union leader. The union provided assurances that it will not intervene in managerial affairs in the future, an issue that helped bring the plant at a standstill since mid-December. Nevertheless, it appeared that the two sides remained apart in resolving core disputes; the company issued a statement saying the plant «needs improvements regarding competitiveness and performance in order to secure its long-term profitable operation,» while the union maintained that two agreements reached last year have not been fully implemented. Olympic Airways Economy Minister Nikos Christodoulakis said there are «very positive indications» that the ongoing negotiations with the preferred bidder for a majority stake in state-owned Olympic Airways, the Restis shipping group, can yield results soon. Although he declined to specify how soon, he said talks will continue at least until the end of the month. This is the third attempt at privatizing the ailing carrier. Prices Athens Chamber of Commerce and Industry chairman Drakoulis Fountoukakos told Deputy Development Minister Christos Theodorou that the measure forcing shopkeepers to post prices with the indications «euros» and «cents» as of January 20 holds the danger of prices being rounded off upward; also that the measure was particularly difficult to implement in the sales period which started yesterday. Theodorou, who toured central shopping streets in Athens at the start of the winter sales period, said retailers who had launched discounts too early last week would be fined. Accidents The number of reported fatal industrial accidents fell 19 percent to 153 in 2002 from 188 in 2001, the Labor Ministry said. Electrocutions and improper use of machinery were the main causes of accidents.