NEWS

Gas running out as truckers go on strike

Dozens of gas stations in Athens ran out of fuel yesterday as worried drivers snapped up all the gasoline they could on the first day of a strike by truck drivers protesting the government’s attempt to open up their profession. Some 35,000 drivers of regular trucks that carry fuel are taking part in the protest. They have all been issued with licenses by the state to carry goods for third parties and are responsible for transporting the vast majority of fuel from the country’s refineries to gas stations. The drivers were upset at the government’s failure to consult with them over the details of a draft law that seeks to liberalize their sector. The details of the bill, which further angered the truckers, were presented by Transport Minister Dimitris Reppas. The prospective law foresees the cost of obtaining a trucker’s license decreasing rapidly over the next three years, so that by 2013, applicants will only have to pay administrative fees. Greece began issuing such licenses in 1967, stopped in 1976 and then gave out permits for the last time in 1986. This has created a closed shop in the trucking sector, meaning that licenses are either handed down from relative to relative or are sold for large sums. The permits have been known to fetch between 30,000 and 350,000 euros. As a result, truckers are now furious that permits will soon be available for free and that they will not be able to recoup their initial outlay by selling on their licenses. «Some people had to sell their houses to get one of these licenses,» said unionist Charalambos Daditsios. «We want justice.» Reppas, however, was adamant that the contents of the bill were the product of negotiations with the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, from whom Greece is borrowing 110 billion euros in emergency loans. The EU and the IMF want Greece to liberalize a number of closed professions, including those of taxi drivers, architects and lawyers, and Reppas indicated that Athens had no room for maneuver on the issue. «There is no alternative,» he said. «This is the final bill.» The news of the strike sent Athenians and Greeks in other parts of the country scurrying for fuel and long queues formed at many gas stations. Concerned that the strike may drag on for days, some drivers pumped more gas than they would normally, which left some stations without petrol. If the strike continues, it is expected that few gas stations in Attica or Thessaloniki will be able to serve customers by tomorrow.