Cash machines lead to closure of street markets

Street market producers and traders are due to launch an indefinite strike starting today as they seek to bring pressure on the government to withdraw a controversial law requiring traders to use cash machines with effect from next year. They set up roadblocks at the Athens-Corinth and Athens-Lamia toll-booths last evening to prevent trucks conveying fresh produce from entering the capital. The blockade will be in force until the government rescinds the legislation. The dispute arose after the Finance Ministry earlier in the year said that traders selling small goods such as clothes, shoes and household products at street markets would be obligated to issue receipts from cash machines starting next year. Fruit and vegetables producers and sellers are exempted from the ruling. The ministry said the move is part of a strategy to stamp out illegal trade and tax evasion. It is also expected to create a more level playing ground between street traders and shopkeepers. Street market producers and traders decided on the strike and blockade action after failing to find a solution to the cash machine issue during a meeting with Deputy Development Minister Christos Theodorou yesterday. While the Development Ministry had shown a sympathetic ear to their objections, the Finance Ministry had been far from understanding, Pantelis Moschos, head of the federation of street producers, said. «The Finance Ministry has been indifferent toward finding a solution or even listening to us,» he charged, noting that the ministry pressed the legislation through Parliament without discussing the issue with street producers and traders. He said street markets will remain closed for an indefinite period starting today. Theodorou said a committee comprising of representatives from street producers, traders and the government will be set up to discuss the issues. It is expected to meet next week. Traders at the central fresh produce market at Rendi in the meantime urged the government to stick to its ruling on cash machines in order to put a stop to illegal trading and distribution of fruit and vegetables, which were costing legitimate merchants a hefty 1.5 billion euros annually. Andrianos Stergiou, head of the union of traders at Rendi, said illicit trade has had a major impact on business at the central market. «Currently only 18 percent of fresh produce is distributed via Rendi,» he said. Stergiou called for intensified checks on trucks conveying fresh produce and also during their distribution.