Authorities in Greece have called in the army to help maintain supplies of fuel and food, after a six—day old strike by haulage driver looked set to continue on Saturday.
Airports, electricity plants and hospitals are relying on depleted fuel stocks, and food supplies have dwindled, after the truckers disobeyed a government emergency order to return to work, in a dispute about opening up the closed system of licences for road freight.
The stoppage has seen many tourists stranded as petrol supplies ran dry at the peak of the tourism season, as well as ordinary Greeks stuck without fuel.
To prevent clashes with striking drivers, the armed forces were accompanied by jeeps and police cars as they worked around the clock to restock supplies.
Meanwhile, fuel companies dispatched their own trucks in an effort to replenish petrol stations left dry which remained closed on Saturday.
Truck drivers have ignored an emergency order to return to work and the strike has depleted petrol station supplies and caused a severe shortage of fresh food across the country as well as hitting the vital tourism industry, with many visitors cancelling plans for vacations in the southern Mediterranean country.
Lorry drivers are protesting against plans to cut licence charges — part of major reforms required of Greece to boost competition and one of the conditions of a 110 billion euro bailout package by the European Union and International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Road freight remains one of Greece’s most closed professions with no new licenses issued for nearly 40 years.
The reforms will mean drivers will no longer be able to sell their business licences privately — sometimes for as much as 300,000 euros — greatly devaluing the initial investment they made.
Clashes broke out at an oil refinery in the northern port city of Thessaloniki between riot police and strikers on Friday as they tried to prevent a government—controlled fuel truck from leaving the premises. At least two people were reported injured.
Facing arrest and prosecution unless they return to work, the drivers say they will continue to defy the emergency civil mobilization order.
Meanwhile, other closed professions, such as taxi drivers, lawyers and architects, fear they will be next.
Under the terms of the bailout, the European Union and IMF want Greece to liberalize these professions by September.
Greece’s main labour unions have since February staged repeated strikes against the tough austerity measures.
A hauliers’ decision to continue their strike came as a team of EU, IMF and European Central Bank officials are visiting Athens to monitor progress and decide whether to release the second instalment of the emergency package in September, totalling 9 billion euros.
The ongoing strike is taking place at the height of the busy tourist season, with many tourists and Greeks themselves left stranded by the petrol shortages.
Hundreds of rented cars have been left abandoned on the side of the road on many Greek islands after they had run out of petrol.
Meanwhile, thousands of tourists, mainly from Serbia and Bulgaria, who drove to Greece for their holidays have been stranded as petrol stations dried up.
Greek officials hope to have petrol station stocked with fuel across the country by late Sunday.