A four-day strike of bus drivers will begin next Monday. This has become clear after the failed negotiations between branch workers and their employers for signing the collective labour agreement. As a result, Greece will wake up without transport for tourists next week. Visitors to the country will most likely have to use conventional transport means instead of the expected transport services included in their travel packages.
GRReporter contacted the federation of employees in tourism transport in Greece. This is the trade union organization initiating the protest and its president Vasilis Dimitropoulos said for our readers, "The unilateral decision of employers to reduce wages, abolish the minimum wage, cut most of our benefits and reduce our right of free days, has made us response." According to Dimitropoulos, employers’ suggestions were much worse and unfavourable to the employees than the changes in labour relations under the Memorandum of financial assistance. Workers and employers have held three meetings since March this year in order to reach an agreement on next year’s wage levels.
"After the meeting before the last, we decided to prepare a programme in which we not only give up wage increases but also some of our benefits to the basic salary," the trade unionist said. He stated that they had suggested a 5% reduction of net wages and the collective branch labour agreement should have been valid for three years. Dimitropoulos argued that the trade union had received verbal assurances that the employees’ proposal would be accepted. At the meeting, when the agreement had to be signed, employers had changed their mind, said Dimitropoulos. They insisted on a 25% cut of wages and changes in the staff’s days off.
As we all know, the coin always has two sides. The National Statistical Service of Greece has recently presented data indicating more than 40% decrease in tourist flow to the country, mainly in tourists using the services of specialized buses. Asked whether a reduction of wages should not be anticipated in case of decreased turnover, Vasilis Dimitropoulos replied, "That does not mean cancellation of collective agreements. We tried all possible means to reach consensus before announcing a four-day strike. We are obliged to secure the minimum for our workers." He said employees could not agree with any condition set to them as if they were "lambs to the slaughter" as he put it and so, they have declared a strike. Buses will not work between 1 am on Monday, 4 June and Thursday.
The employers have the support of the Pan-Hellenic Federation of Tourist Enterprises. Its chairman Marios Trivizas said particularly for GRReporter readers, "The strike is the worst turn the talks could take. The negotiations between the members of our Federation are continuing today and we will do everything possible to prevent an active strike. We will find alternatives so that we can meet as many demands of the employees as possible." The employers' federation have made it clear that they are willing to make new concessions. They believe it is possible to reach consensus despite the obstacles, but insist that employees should understand the need for cuts.
Meanwhile, many airlines are withdrawing from the Greek market due to the high airport fees of "Eleftheros Venizelos". The president of the Association of Travel Agencies stated that if the capital airport does not reduce its fees there will be no airlines to use it in the near future. Andreas Andreadis, chairman of the Hellenic Association of Tourist Companies, recalled that the former Minister of Transport and Infrastructure Makis Voridis had pledged to halve the additional charges of the capital airport - a promise which was not observed. George Drakopoulos of the same association said, "As soon as the political and economic situation calms after the elections, the demand will increase. At the same time, we must enforce a policy of air transport, which must have two main objectives. The first one is to improve the competitiveness of Greek air transport and the second one is to develop airport infrastructure according to the criteria of the private sector."
International airlines have begun withdrawing one after another from the Greek market after the economic crisis has worsened. The last company making direct flights between Athens and New York, Delta, stopped the direct flights in early October 2011. Both Olympic Air and Continental had stopped serving this destination before it. Last week, Singapore Airlines has also announced it will suspend the flights Athens - Abu Dhabi and the last flight to Singapore will be on 26 October 2012. TAP Portugal stopped its flights to Athens in October last year and Thai broke with Greece a month later. The national airline of Bahrain, GULF-AIR suspended the flights to Athens well before the onset of 2012.