ECONOMY

Pension reform talks treading delicate ground

The government, labor unions and employers seem to be heading toward a two-tiered process of dialogue on the future of the country’s pension system. The first level is at the Economic and Social Committee (OKE), which the government has designated to coordinate the dialogue, and where unions and employers are represented, together with local government, civil servants and farm cooperatives. OKE members would like to be left alone to do the job. «We shall ask the government to leave us free to conduct a dialogue among ourselves,» OKE’s chairman Nikos Analytis told reporters recently. “We shall also ask for resources for the study and for help in access to data.» He added that the labor and civil servants’ union agencies, GSEE and ADEDY respectively, will be indispensable parts of the dialogue. The second tier will be separate meetings between the government and labor unions and employers. It seems that the government here will have to respond effectively on at least three points: tackling evasion of social insurance contributions, honoring commitments regarding the implementation of the existing system and that the Social Insurance Foundation (IKA) is not burdened with the huge cost involved in setting up a single pension fund for bank workers. What if the government takes objection to OKEãs report, expected around year’s end? «It would be a fatal mistake for the government,» Analytis says. In order to promote a favorable climate for the dialogue, it seems the government would have to bypass the open controversial issues of working hours and overtime. GSEE chief Christos Polyzogopoulos has sent a stern message that any changes in overtime will be decided together with employers. The government’s big problem now is that its credibility and ability in handling labor market issues is increasingly coming into question. Even DAKE, the ruling party-affiliated labor grouping, is showing clear signs of disaffection. The other key issue of reforming working-hour regulations has risen to prominence at European level. The European Parliament last week rejected a commission proposal for lifting the ceiling to the working week to 65 hours, but there is no escaping the realization that labor law is headed for reform in that direction. It is also an undeniable fact that the 65-hour week is already a widespread de facto reality in Greece, in the form of either one or two jobs.