Unions lash out at reforms

Unions appear headed for a showdown with the government over its intention to push through with economic reforms, even before it has articulated a coherent program with concrete proposals. The executive council of the General Confederation of Greek Labor (GSEE) decided yesterday to organize either a stoppage or a full-blown strike on June 16. A final decision will be likely made later this week, after the constituent federations have been consulted. GSEE also announced that it will hold a so-called «referendum» on changes in the labor market and on social security. With the government not having presented any specific reform package on either, it is not clear what the referendum will be about other than confirming GSEE’s longstanding opposition to negotiating away «rights gained through lengthy struggle.» In a tumultuous parliamentary session yesterday that focused on the amount of EU aid Greece must return due to irregularities in implementing major public projects, Economy and Finance Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis said that social security reform was one of the government’s priorities. That was his only reference to the issues raised by GSEE. The unionists are determined to have a head-on clash with the government despite the fact that, this time, they may not have the wholehearted support of the opposition. The Socialists, the main opposition party, are divided on the issue with many – apparently including its leader, George Papandreou – considering reforms necessary and not wishing to emulate the conservatives’ populism that helped abort a Socialist social security reform plan in 2001. Bank employees have already been striking against government plans to amalgamate their auxiliary pension funds under the Social Security Foundation (IKA), the largest pension provider to private sector employees. They claim that their strike, yesterday in its second out of a total of four days, was a success and called for a mid-town demonstration tomorrow at 9.30 a.m. outside the EFG Eurobank office on Korai St. Later, at 11 a.m., the executive council of OTOE, the bank employees’ umbrella union, will meet to decide on further strike action. OTOE said in a statement yesterday that its legal counsel has advised that any government legislation over the auxiliary pension funds would be an illegal intervention into collective and bilateral labor agreements. Bank employees are ready, if such legislation materializes, to take the matter to the European Commission, the European Parliament and the International Labor Office. A clash between unions and, indirectly, the government, at state-controlled Hellenic Petroleum (ELPE) was averted yesterday when employees decided to accept the management’s proposal on pay rises and call off the 10-day strike that was supposed to start tomorrow. The management’s proposal calls for a basic pay rise of 2.9 percent, which will rise according to the average inflation rate, trailing that figure by 0.2 percentage points. For example, if inflation averages 3.5 percent during 2005, as the government has forecast, ELPE employees will get a 3.3 percent pay rise. GSEE’s president Christos Polyzogopoulos welcomed the agreement.

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