Social security too hot to handle

The so-called dialogue on social security reform began yesterday with none of the main participants appearing too eager to engage, each for their own reasons. Before meeting yesterday with the Executive Committee of the Economic and Social Council (OKE), Economy and Finance Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis declared that the dialogue was to be conducted by OKE, which is the body mandated by the constitution to conduct the dialogue on issues of economic and social policy. Employer and employee representatives, as well as farmers’ cooperatives, chambers of commerce and local government all participate in OKE. However, despite OKE’s wide-ranging representation and its advisory role on economic and social legislation, no government in the past had attempted to shift the burden of conducting the dialogue on such an important issue as social security to that body. Alogoskoufis further distanced the government from the dialogue by saying that, besides this meeting, the government would no longer intervene, adding that the dialogue would be a «long-term» one that would last beyond the government’s current four-year term. Asked about the refusal of the General Confederation of Greek Labor (GSEE) and the Civil Servants’ Union (ADEDY) to take part in the dialogue, Alogoskoufis again appeared as if it was none of his concern. «The Economic and Social Council operates with the input of all social partners and the government has no reason to comment on whether this or that representative will attend,» he told reporters ahead of the meeting. GSEE has decided against participating because it does not like the fact that no agenda has been set. It has called for a direct dialogue with employers’ representatives and the government and claimed that the government is using OKE to limit the scope of the dialogue. GSEE agrees with the government on one point, that no decisions can be made within the government’s current term, which expires in spring 2008. ADEDY has said it will not take part in any dialogue, citing studies claiming that the pension system will have adequate funding for the next 25 years. That was GSEE’s initial position, following the timid reform package enacted by the previous Socialist government in 2002, after a bolder reform plan had been shelved under the combined outcry of unionists and the opposition, left and right. Having contributed toward aborting the Socialists’ reform package, the conservative government has promised that retirement age hikes, pension and contribution levels would be off the table. To some, even this promise of non-reform is not enough: Members of PAME, the union movement comprising mostly pro-communist unionists, demonstrated noisily outside the Economy and Finance Ministry’s offices at Syntagma Square and physically harassed Nikos Analytis as he came to attend the meeting. The OKE president finally managed to scramble through and Employment Minister Panos Panayiotopoulos used an emergency exit to avoid the crowd. A meeting at OKE’s premises will take place after Easter, with the unions still adamant they will not attend. The Parliament’s Economic Affairs Committee will take up the issue on May 12.

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