NEWS

Social security, tax bill approved at committee level ahead of Sunday vote

TAGS: Economy, Protest

Greek Parliament’s financial and social affairs committees on Friday approved contentious legislation overhauling the social security system and tax regulations in a vote that was attended almost exclusively by MPs of the ruling coalition of leftist SYRIZA and nationalist Independent Greeks.

The legislation, which has prompted widespread strikes across the country through the weekend, is expected to be presented to the House on Saturday, with the vote on the bill scheduled for Sunday night.

The new legislation, which foresees hikes in social security contributions and taxes, is opposed by the majority of the country’s professional sectors, including public and municipal services, and transport, hospital, ferry and media workers.

Several hundred people marched peacefully in protest at the bill outside Parliament on Syntagma Square on Friday, though turnout is expected to be larger at a rally organized to coincide with the vote on Sunday.

The vote will test Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who initially came to power in January 2015 on promises to repeal austerity measures previous governments had imposed to qualify for international rescue loans.

Tsipras’s government has a majority of just three seats in the 300-member House, and has lost its lead to opposition conservatives in opinion polls amid mounting voter disillusionment.

“Everything the unions are doing now is to justify their existence. Absolutely nothing will change,” Athens resident pensioner Constantine Andreopoulos told The Associated Press. “And those who came to power after 50 years will not risk their seats. They’re not stupid. They will do anything, even sell their souls to the devil.”

The planned pension reforms, under which workers will pay higher contributions, have triggered months of protests, including by farmers who blockaded highways and lawyers who have abstained from court appearances for months.

The government insists the reforms will create a fairer system and end years of political pandering to powerful labor groups. It moved up the parliamentary debate and vote to this week, ahead of a meeting on Greece by eurozone finance ministers – the so-called Eurogroup – in Brussels on Monday, though no major announcements are expected from that meeting regarding the wrap-up of Greece’s ongoing bailout review and talks for debt relief.

[Kathimerini/AP]

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