NEWS

Transport woes go on

Chaos prevailed in the streets of Athens yesterday as a 24-hour national strike meant that no public transportation (except for taxis) was available, forcing residents to use cars – which then had to contend with a protest rally that choked off the city center. The strike was held to coincide with the beginning of a parliamentary debate on new legislation aimed at reforming Greece’s pension system. Although the strike called by the civil servants’ federation (ADEDY) and the General Confederation of Greek Labor (GSEE), which covers employees in the private and broader public sector, was for 24 hours, Athenians’ woes are set to continue. The Panhellenic Seamen’s Federation (PNO) began a 48-hour strike that paralyzed coastal shipping, demanding higher pensions and protesting at plans for their union to be absorbed by the country’s largest, the Social Security Foundation (IKA). The federation is to decide today whether it will continue with 48-hour rolling strikes. Faced with the threat of tourism being wiped out over the three-day weekend commemorating the Pentecost, municipalities, hotels and travel agencies on the islands have been sending letters to National Economy and Finance Minister Nikos Christodoulakis demanding that the problem be solved. Today and tomorrow, employees of the Piraeus-Kifissia railway line (ISAP) will be on strike from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., creating more problems for commuters. Also, Greek air traffic controllers are today joining colleagues in several European countries who are on strike in protest at plans for a centralized European traffic control system. This is likely to affect many flights. Participation in yesterday’s protest rally was limited to about 3,000 people, which organizers blamed on the heat and the fact that the public transport strike prevented people from getting to the city center. When the march toward the Parliament building began, however, another 3,000 demonstrators joined it along the way. Unions claimed that participation in the strike (other than in the transport sector) was as high as 90 percent in some cases, the Federation of Northern Greek Industries, the only one to present figures, placed participation in the strike at 22.3 percent. State banks were, once again, affected to a greater extent than private banks, with 60-percent strike participation at the National Bank and Agricultural Bank in Athens. Parliament is to vote on the pension bill tomorrow. Activating the system is expected to protect banks from bad debts, at a time of great credit expansion. It is also expected to lead to a more rational policy on the price of money for credit cards and consumer loans, which have been criticized for being too high. Banks note that with this «white list» of customers, they will be able to use a scoring system for each one. In this way, they will be able to deal with people who do not pay their debts while showing greater flexibility toward those who do pay off their loans, perhaps by offering them lower rates.