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BHy Deborah Kyvrikosaios and Alkman Granitsas

Written by: Staff
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ATHENS, Feb 22 (Reuters) Greece's two biggest unions has called a nationwide strike for March 15, as striking seamen extended by 48 hours a six day-long walkout that has left Greek shipping and ports in a state of chaos.

Rising discontent over economic measures introduced by the centre-right government eager to reduce budget deficits and liberalise the labour market has led to further protests by Greek unions in recent months.

The two umbrella unions -- private sector GSEE and public sector ADEDY -- joined forces for next month's walkout.

''Our two organizations have decided to announce a 24-hour, nationwide strike for March 15,'' Christos Polyzogopoulos, president of GSEE, told reporters.

Apart from seamen, in the past five days, court workers, hospital doctors, taxi drivers, bank employees and truck drivers have all staged strikes.

Unions are upset over below inflation 2006 wage rises in the state sector, labour reforms and what they say are efforts to weaken their rights to collective bargaining.

In January, the five major banks said they would not hold collective wage talks with their workers' unions.

''The very framework and nature of collective bargaining is being called into question,'' said Polyzogopoulos. ''For us, collective bargaining is non-negotiable.'' Negotiations between GSEE and Greek industrialists over 2006 wages broke down last week.

SEAMEN EXTEND STRIKE Yesterday, the seamen extended a six-day strike demanding better pensions and unemployment benefits, set to isolate islands and cripple passenger and commercial traffic for another two days.

Thousands of trucks were stranded at ports across the country carrying produce such as fresh fruit and meat as well as medical supplies destined for islands, causing an uproar among farmers who are watching their produce rot.

The Union of Greek Passenger Ferry Owners was seeking legal action to stop the strike, which has cut off the main lifeline of more than 600,000 people living on Greek islands.

''There are islands where a boat hasn't docked for eight days now. They are completely isolated,'' said the regional governor of the Cycladic Islands, Dimitris Bailas.

Shortages in medicine, fuel, milk and baby food were reported on several islands, while passengers needing to travel for medical reasons have been stranded.

''Doctors at the main hospital on Siros island (serving the cluster of islands) said oxygen would run out by Wednesday,'' he said. ''On Siros, some 200 tonnes of produce from our greenhouses is rotting.'' REUTERS PDS RAI0546

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