Greek Seamen’s Strike Strands Thousands of Travelers, Tourists

Αssociated press

FILE - Two men walk in front of a docked ferry at the port of Piraeus, near Athens, Wednesday, May 30, 2018. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

ATHENS — With another record summer tourism season winding down, thousands of travelers and visitors were stranded on Greek islands on Sept. 3 when ferry crews seeking higher pay and tax breaks went on strike.

The union of seamen, PNO, said the work stoppage could be extended another day despite pleas from shipping companies to call it off. There was no word from the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA-led coalition.

Ferry companies have said that the strike would affect about 180,000 people who had booked to travel to or from the islands, which include many of Greece's most popular tourist destinations such as Mykonos, Santorini and Crete as many islands have no air connections with the rest of the country.

Unions are seeking a 5 percent pay rise after an eight-year pay freeze due to the country's debt crisis and want to cash in on a record run of tourism years but employers are offering 1 percent.

The association representing Greek ferry companies (SEEN) had urged the union to call off the action and in a letter to them wrote that it would propose renewal of collective labor contracts, practices that SYRIZA ended on orders of international lenders, but which the government said would be restored now that international bailouts have ended.

Shipping companies said the PNO’s strike would cause upheaval for a large number of people. “It will be impossible for solutions to be found to serve passengers,” SEEN said.

The last time the ferry workers struck was in May 2017, even though protests have not worked yet to change the mind of successive governments to keep imposing more austerity on workers, pensioners and the poor.

At that time, the PNO union said seamen were “uniting their voices with those of other workers around the country to cry ‘Take back the measures,’” referring to a new pension cuts and tax hikes imposed by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, breaking his word to them.

There have been thousands of strikes since Greece in 2010 first sought what turned into three bailouts of 326 billion euros ($378.46 billion) and none have done anything to persuade a succession of governments from following the lenders orders to impose pay cuts, tax hikes, slashed pensions, worker firings and privatizations.

(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)