More travel misery from Greek general strike

ATHENS (AFP) – Travellers in Greece on Tuesday ran a labour gauntlet for the second time in a week as a general strike against pensions reform shut down services and disrupted departures from the capital.

But authorities took swift action to keep the main port of Piraeus from being blockaded, sending around 1,000 coastguards and police to keep unionists from seizing control of ferries.

Public Power Corporation employees protest outside their company's headquarters with a banner reading: "We are not selling. We are not for sale" on June 28, 2010 in Athens. AFP

Some 500 Communist-affiliated strikers gathered at the harbour but were prevented from approaching the ships to the Aegean islands which include some of Greece's top travel destinations, a coastguard source said.

However, they were able to block the departure of smaller vessels to islands closer to Athens.

"All the early boats to Aegean destinations have departed," a coastguard spokeswoman told AFP.

"There are increased operational measures at the harbour and things are calm," she said.

The general strike called by the main Greek unions is the fifth since February against a wave of austerity measures imposed by the government as it struggles to staunch a national debt crisis.

Separate street demonstrations against the sweeping spending cuts were planned in central Athens and other main Greek cities later on Tuesday.

A one-day protest on June 23 stranded thousands of travellers at one of the Mediterranean Sea's busiest ports for hours.

The recurring labour unrest has cost Greece booking cancellations and millions of euros in damages at a time when the debt-hit nation is struggling to maximise its revenues and revive its flagging economy.

"Greek islanders are counting on the next month for funds," Manolis Galanakis, deputy chairman of Greek coastal shipping associations, told Mega television.

He added that some 18,000 people were scheduled to sail from Piraeus on Tuesday.

A court late on Monday declared the ferry strike illegal but the Communist party and its related syndicates dismissed the ruling.

"Legality is relative. How can someone losing their job be considered legal?" the head of the Piraeus labour centre Nikos Xourafis told the television station.

Tourism contributes 17 percent of Greece's gross domestic product.

Greece's main airlines grounded nearly 50 of Tuesday's domestic flights because of the strike while rail access to Athens airport was also impeded. Intercity trains also ran a reduced service along with hospitals while state offices shut down altogether.

No news was broadcast as journalists joined the action.

Lawmakers on Tuesday were to begin discussing a disputed pension reform tabled by the government that raises the general retirement age to 65 years for both men and women for the first time.

It also increases the mandatory workforce period from 37 to 40 years and cracks down on early retirement.

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