One strike ends fast

Faced with the threat of protracted strikes in a number of sectors in the runup to the elections, the government yesterday hastened to close the high-profile front presented by gas station owners, assuring them that there would be no change in a prior agreement concerning their obligation to install cash registers on their pumps. Taxi drivers are set to continue their strike until 5 a.m. on Friday. They too are protesting against the Finance Ministry’s demand that they install cash registers in their cabs. They are threatening to use their vehicles to stage protests. University and technical college professors began an indefinite strike on Monday and the government is to meet with their representatives tomorrow. But the government is not expected to give in to their demands in the belief that the 7 percent wage increase it has promised them is large and will appear as such to the people, isolating the professors. The gas station owners’ federation, which on Sunday had called a surprise strike that began at 6 a. m. yesterday, later agreed to end the strike. On Sunday, as word of the strike spread, hundreds of cars queued up at the relatively few gas stations that were open over the weekend, with long lines of cars jamming main thoroughfares and narrow side streets. If this strike were to go on indefinitely, as the gas station owners warned, it would have been very damaging to the government at a time that it is trying to narrow a lead of between 6.1 percent to 7.7 percent enjoyed by the conservative New Democracy party in recent polls. The gas station strike was caused by the Finance Ministry reneging on a promise to owners that they would be given an extension of the deadline to install the cash machines. The ministry issued a circular saying the machines must be purchased immediately. Yesterday, Deputy Finance Minister Apostolos Fotiadis reached agreement with the gas station owners, assuring them that the deal reached on Sept. 9 would be stuck to. This means that small gas stations have until Sept. 30, 2004, to install cash registers and the deadline for ordering them is extended to Feb. 28, 2004. Also in the next few days, the Finance Ministry will issue a document confirming that the cost of buying and installing the cash registers and pumps will be tax deductible. The companies that will install the registers will have to connect them with every pump.

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