Shops suffer as public transport strikes continue

Shop owners and businessmen pleaded yesterday with public transport workers to end the protest action they began some 10 days ago as it is inflicting severe damage on their crucial pre-Christmas trade and is threatening the livelihood of thousands of traders and store assistants.

There was a 24-hour strike on most of the public transport network yesterday, the third such day of action in the past two weeks. Only buses were running between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. The situation is due to continue this week as the public servants have planned a further day of action today. There will be no bus, trolley bus or tram services between noon and 4 p.m. today. Workers on the metro, the Kifissia-Piraeus electric railway (ISAP) and the Proastiakos suburban railway will stay away from work between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m.

A 24-hour strike on the public transport network has been called for tomorrow, when the 2011 national budget is due to be voted through Parliament. On Thursday, only buses will be running between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. All other modes of transport will be on strike. On Friday (Christmas Eve), there will be no buses between noon and 4 p.m., while the metro, tram, Proastiakos and ISAP will stop between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m.

The civil servants are protesting reforms that reduce their wages, allow for them to be transferred to other positions and which could lead to the privatization of some modes of debt-ridden public transport.

Transport Ministry general secretary Haris Tsiokas said the employees? action was ?excessive? but that there was still room to talk. ?We have assured everyone involved there will be plenty of time to discuss the overhaul of suburban transport.?

His words were little comfort to store owners hoping to see trade pick up before Christmas. With more than 2.3 million Athenians using public transport each day, the traders claim they are being denied sorely needed customers by the strikes.

The Central Union of Chambers of Greece (KEEE) estimates shops will be 3 billion euros worse off than last Christmas due to higher taxes, people having less spending money and the impact of the strikes. Giorgos Kasimatis, president of KEEE, said 7,000 businesses could shut down this month.

December usually accounts for a quarter of stores? annual turnover. The National Confederation of Greek Commerce (ESEE) and the Athens Chamber of Commerce and Industry (EBEA) called on transport workers to give stores a chance to attract some last-minute shoppers. ?Once again, businesses and citizens of this country are suffering the collateral damage of the government?s dispute with the unions,? said EBEA president Constantinos Michalos.

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