Monday, December 13, 2004

Welcome to the world of diversity…

In the land of diversity, conformity is compulsory. That is what several thousand Cypriot truck drivers are finding out; and they do not like it. According to the news agency AFP, they went on indefinite strike today, blockading the island's two main sea ports in Limassol and Larnaca.

The truckers are complaining about EU harmonisation laws which prohibit the issue of operators' licenses to individual trucks but require them to be issued to companies, preventing them being sold on after owners retire for a fee that can reach up to 120,000 dollars with the vehicle.

They are also angry at the introduction of costlier modifications, tougher professional examinations and plans to phase out at least 1,000 old lorries from the roads.

Still unaware of how the system works, they are now demanding amendments to the rules which they say the government had promised them during a previous week-long crippling strike in October 2003, estimated to have cost the Cyprus economy about 200 million dollars.

Long lines of trucks are now blockading the ports and industrial areas, with two cargo ships already stuck at Limassol unable to unload bricks and iron and containers piling up at the dockside. The action, by members of unions representing the island's 4,500 truckers, could have dire consequences on the economy.

"Today we find ourselves at a deadlock, and the only solution out of this deadlock is for a declaration to be issued for the postponement of these harmonisation laws," said a statement from the Cyprus small business union, the main body representing the truckers.

If a solution is not forthcoming, determined truckers are saying that they wil take wider militant action and block key transport routes. There is also concern that a prolonged dispute could lead to shortages in construction material, foodstuffs and pharmaceuticals.

"Unjustified, illogical and pre-determined," is how government spokesman Kypros Chrysostomides described the action. "The damage that will be caused to various sectors of the economy will be especially tough." The employers federation also called for dialogue to avoid economic crisis.

Dialogue hardly seems appropriate. Someone needs to remind the truckers that, on 1 May they joined an organisation called the European Union which, while sporting its motto, "Unity in diversity" (or in Latin if you prefer: In varietate concordia), demands conformity in all things.

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