Reppas treads lightly with industrialists

Since his appointment to the sensitive Labor Ministry last week, Dimitris Reppas has been bending over backward to highlight his dissimilarities to his predecessor, Tassos Yiannitsis. The most notable feature has been his kid-glove handling of industrialists, trade unionists and traders, signaling a new approach toward resolving the social security reform issue. Meeting with industrialists and traders at their offices yesterday, Reppas won only praise for his overtures. The minister will need all the good will he can get from all parties as he works out a framework for talks on social security reforms, stalled after the Confederation of Greek Trade Unions (GSEE) launched two general strikes last spring in protest against government proposals. Reppas said yesterday that discussions are expected to start shortly. The issue is of critical importance and cannot be left in limbo. We owe it to future generations to find a solution, he stressed. The minister said the climate appears favorable, with all participants showing the best intentions and a strong will. He urged all parties to overcome their differences and work toward a solution. Lefteris Antonakopoulos, head of the Federation of Greek Industries, in turn applauded Reppas’s open channel of communications, saying that industrialists would contribute to the minister’s efforts. The Federation of Traders and Craftsmen (GSEEVE) was equally impressed with the minister’s approach. Reppas’s visit to GSEEVE’s offices yesterday underscored his willingness to cooperate, federation head Giorgos Motsos said. He said that these sentiments, a first for the ministry, showed that the State has singled out the federation as its adviser. The discussion on social security reforms got a kick-start from GSEE in September as it held a national conference attended by both industrialists and then-Labor Minister Tassos Yiannitsis. Despite the good intentions from all sides, it is, however, far from clear whether the differences can be bridged. For trade unionists, the principal issue has been one of funding, while the official stand is to increase the retirement age and workers’ contributions, and trim retirement benefits. The government-commissioned Government Actuaries’ report estimated that social security liabilities amount to 84 trillion drachmas or 200 percent of Greece’s gross domestic product. With the system projected to hit rock bottom in 2010, a solution is thus of critical importance.

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