Cyprus economy feels pinch of truckers’ strike

NICOSIA (AFP) – Cypriot union and business leaders yesterday urged an end to a weeklong truckers strike as the government struggled to negotiate a way out of the crippling dispute. The island’s main seaport at Limassol has come to a standstill as thousands of containers and vehicles pile up and ships are anchored off the southern coast waiting to unload cargo. «The strike measures by the heavy goods drivers have paralyzed nearly every business activity with serious consequences to the wider economy,» said a statement from the influential Employers and Industrialists Federation. Unusually, heavyweight union federations of right-wing Sek and left-wing Peo have also come out against the strike. So far, government mediation efforts have failed, but with businesses and ordinary employees feeling the pinch, truckers may look for a face-saving exit. Their own union has urged for the blockade of ports and key industrial sites to end in favor of negotiating a settlement, but the rank-and-file have dug in their heels. About 4,500 truckdrivers in future EU member Cyprus are involved in the blockade over what they see as the introduction of unfair EU laws in their profession. They oppose EU harmonization rules in which «A» licenses are no longer issued to individual trucks but companies, preventing their being sold on after a driver retires for a $5,000 fee. They are also angry at the introduction of tougher professional examinations, which cost $200, and a plan to take at least 1,000 old lorries off the road. Heavy goods vehicles are parked outside ports and industrial zones in the Greek-Cypriot south of the island where they refuse to load or unload cargo. Damage to the economy is estimated in the millions of dollars, and the government has called for a truce but says it can not ignore EU regulations. «I call on the strikers to consider their responsibilities toward the economy and Cypriot society in general,» said Communications Minister Kikis Kazamias.

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