Demands fly as the new chief goes to work

Three days after taking up his post at the Economy and Finance Ministry, new minister Nikos Christodoulakis yesterday set to work with a vengeance, by arranging back-to-back meetings with trade unionists and industrialists. Meeting with the minister first, Christos Polyzogopoulos, head of umbrella trade union body GSEE, sought to remind Christodoulakis of the government’s emphasis on its social face, a policy which Prime Minister Costas Simitis had underscored during his state-of-the-nation address in Thessaloniki last month. The GSEE head proposed that the 2002 budget should seek to allocate more funds to vulnerable groups and that social spending be beefed up. He also asked that projects financed by European Union structural funds should aim to create jobs. The thorny issue of social security reforms also came up during the discussion, Polyzogopoulos told reporters after meeting with the minister. He suggested that the state earmark more budgetary funds for social security and that the government increase its contribution in line with GSEE’s planned tripartite funding scheme. The GSEE head also aired a long-time grudge, notably the 1.3 trillion drachmas owed by the state to IKA (the social security foundation). Payment of the arrears would enable IKA to pay its dues to the State Employment Organization (OAED), which would in turn help it stretch out unemployment benefits, he told Christodoulakis.The trade unionist said that proposed tax reforms should seek to reduce the tax burden on workers and pensioners. Lefteris Antonakopoulos, president of the Federation of Greek Industries (SEV), and fellow industrialists who met with the minister yesterday, called on the state to take advantage of favorable conditions and resolve the social security issue. He said the timing is ripe as all social partners are converging their positions with everybody able to communicate with each other. The SEV head also called on the minister to speed up projects in the Third Community Support Framework and tax reforms as well as simplify bureaucratic paperwork. Not only would these help attract foreign investments, they would improve Greek competitiveness and national output.

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