NEWS

Strike chokes islands

Faced with mounting problems caused by the seamen’s strike, entering its fourth day today, the government scrambled yesterday to find a solution that will end the stranglehold on the country’s islands. The situation has worsened dramatically by the day, with tens of thousands of people stranded on islands, supplies running low, produce not getting to markets on the mainland or in Europe, and countless Athenians wondering whether they will be able to get away from the capital for the three-day Pentecost holiday weekend. Seamen are to decide today whether they will continue with the strike, which is slated to end tomorrow. Meanwhile, travel agents, hoteliers and community leaders on the islands warned that the bad publicity caused by tourists being unable to get to and from the islands would prove devastating to tourism. Cancellations of reservations for the weekend were as high as 80 percent on islands such as Paros, Tinos and Syros. Prime Minister Costas Simitis delayed his departure for the EU summit in Seville yesterday in order to discuss the problem with aides. National Economy and Finance Minister Nikos Christodoulakis cancelled his attendance at an ECOFIN meeting in Madrid today in order to work on the problem caused by the sailors’ strike. The government offered to increase pensions gradually until 2008, refusing to carry out a decision taken by Merchant Marine Minister Giorgos Anomeritis and Labor Minister Dimitris Reppas to increase pensions from the current 60 percent of active seamen’s salaries to 70 percent on January 1, 2003. The strike was caused by Christodoulakis’s demand that the amendment be withdrawn after he found that the increase would cost 146 million euros (50 billion drachmas) annually. The Panhellenic Seamen’s Federation (PNO) also rejects a government decision to absorb their pension fund into the Social Security Foundation (IKA), the largest Greek fund. Anomeritis, the merchant marine minister, met with the PNO leadership last night, after attending a meeting with Christodoulakis and Reppas, and told the seamen that the government could allow their pensions to rise from 60 percent to 62 percent of active salaries next year, climbing to 70 percent by 2008. PNO president Yiannis Halas indicated that seamen would reject the offer.