ATHENS (Reuters) - Greek taxi drivers blocked ports and airports on the popular tourist islands of Crete and Corfu on Thursday, in a strike to protest against government plans to open up their trade to competition.
Taxi drivers, fighting deregulation in their industry — one of 135 professions targeted by Greece to meet EU and IMF bailout conditions, disrupted tourists for the fourth day, as EU leaders gathered in Brussels for a summit on the debt crisis.
Tourism makes up 16 percent of Greece’s GDP and the government had projected a 10 percent hike in tourism revenues after two years marred by anti-austerity strikes and protests.
In Crete, a top tourist destination, about 200 taxis blocked access to ports and the airport, a police official said. Passengers had to walk about 400 metres to get to their buses.
Taxis also blocked the port in Corfu, forcing passengers to walk hundreds of metres to reach buses. “They won’t let buses pick up passengers,” said a coast guard official.
The EU and the IMF have made liberalisation of Greece’s closed professions a condition of a 110 billion euro bailout that saved it from bankruptcy in May last year.
In practice, the opening up of sectors such as pharmacy, tourism and law has so far been limited, with the government bowing to union demands to keep regulations in place.
Tourism industry officials said bookings have so far not been affected by the taxi strike but it may hurt the sector in the long run, along with other protests and industrial action.
“The trouble tourists are going through could have a negative impact on tourism,” said Andreas Andreadis head of the main tourism industry body SETE, calling on the government to take legal action against people obstructing transport.
But cab drivers, who also disrupted traffic on other roads in Greece and blocked access to the port and airport in Athens on Monday, vowed to press on with the strike if their demands were not met. They say the reform, which would cut the price of taxi licences to just a few thousand euros from tens of thousands, would hurt a sector already hit by austerity.
“Our decision is final. We won’t return to work unless the minister solves the problem, he must solve it,” the head of Greece’s main taxi union, Efthimis Lyberopoulos, told Reuters.