Greek drivers vote to end strike

Greek lorry driver during protest in front of parliament in Athens - 30 July 2010
Image caption The drivers' strike caused fuel shortages across the country

Lorry drivers in Greece have ended a week-long strike against plans to reform the freight industry and agreed to resume talks with the government.

The union decision, approved by a narrow margin, came after the army was mobilised to deliver fuel to key sites.

The drivers, angry over a plan to allow more competition as required by the International Monetary Fund, ignored an order to return to work on Wednesday.

Fuel supplies were severely disrupted and Greece's tourist industry affected.

A representative of general assembly of truck federations, Giorgos Tzortzatos, said it did not want to see people deprived of essential goods.

"Taking into consideration the problems that have been created by not supplying the market with food and petrol and other products, and with a sense of responsibility, we decided on the suspension of the strike by a narrow majority of votes," he told reporters after Sunday's vote.

The drivers now want the government to rescind last week's emergency decree, which ordered them to return to work, subjected them to martial law and left them liable to arrest, imprisonment and the loss of their operating licences.

By Saturday, some drivers had already begun to comply with the back-to-work order, helping to ease the shortages of fuel, food, medicines.

The changes to the freight industry are part of an austerity programme demanded by the EU and the IMF as part of measures to rescue Greece from a debt crisis.

No new licences for lorry drivers have been issued in many years. Existing licences are instead sold at a high cost. The government wants to make more available and lower the cost of entering the industry.

The increased competition is meant to lower freight costs.

Existing drivers have said the plan is unfair and they want compensation for the hundreds of thousands of euros some have paid for a licence.

Debt obligations

The decision to end the strike comes as the tourist season enters its peak period.

Image caption Deserted lorries lined Greek highways this week

However, huge damage has already been done to Greece's reputation, as many holidaymakers have been stranded by the lack of fuel, the BBC's Malcolm Brabant in Athens says.

Tens of thousands of tourists have cancelled their bookings because they could not reach their destinations.

Our correspondent says the government may have won a victory in that it has shown its determination to resist the toughest of industrial challenges.

It is pledging to be equally robust with other special interest groups which it intends to open up to competition, such as lawyers and taxi drivers.

But a profitable tourist season is essential if Greece is to fend off bankruptcy, our correspondent says.

If income drops substantially this summer and treasury targets are not met, it will increase the chances of Greece defaulting on its debt obligations, he adds.

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