Bus services in Athens shut down for eight hours on Thursday after employees of OASA, the Greek state-controlled transport organisation, walked off the job because June salaries had not been paid.
The wildcat strike highlighted growing cash flow problems at loss-making state corporations as Greece struggles to bring public spending under control.
The strike came as the Greek railway organisation OSE announced it was cutting services on regional lines in northern Greece, including an international connection to Turkey.
OSE has been trying to raise €400m of loans through the public debt management agency to finance day-to-day operations, but to date has secured less than half the amount, a union official said.
Alecos Kominos, head of the bus workers’ union, said it was the first time that salary payments to transport workers had been delayed
More than 7,000 staff agreed to return to work after receiving assurances the finance ministry had arranged a bank transfer of €22m to cover unpaid salaries.
“Management said it was a procedural issue …But the amount transferred only covered net income – there is still a big backlog of unpaid obligations,” Mr Kominos said.
He said OASA had not paid social security contributions for the past two months and also owed more than €8m to suppliers of fuel and spare parts.
The organisation, which includes bus, trolley, tram and metro subsidiaries, serves more than 3.5m residents in the capital and the surrounding Attica region.
Yannis Stournaras, head of the independent Athens think-tank IOBE, said, “Public transport entities have used up 70 per cent of their annual subsidy in the first half of the year …Unless tax revenues increase in the second half, their funding situation will become extremely difficult.”
Greek banks are no longer willing to provide unlimited operating funds to loss-making state enterprises on the basis of government loan guarantees.
The risk of lending to public companies has risen following the country’s downgrade to junk status by international ratings agencies.
The Athens bus operation reported losses of €304m, last year out of OASA’s total losses of €478m. OASA’s accumulated debt reached €3.2bn at the end of 2009.
The railway organisation reported losses of almost €1bn in 2009, with accumulated debts reaching €9.5bn.
The two organisations together account for more than 50 per cent of total debt owed by Greek state entities.
The government is due to present a restructuring plan for OSE this week, which would provide for selling 49 per cent of TrainOSE, the network operator to a strategic operator that would also take over management.
The transport ministry is reviewing cost-cutting options for OASA, including shutting down the tram line and streamlining the bus network. Workers made redundant would be offered jobs in other state organisations.
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