First call for pension reform talks meets with cool union response

The government yesterday called on employers and unions to take part in talks on reforming Greece’s social security system, with assurances that there will be no changes to retirement ages, insurance contributions or pensions. Employment and Social Security Minister Vassilis Magginas sent invitations to the heads of the main employers’ and union organizations, and later paid a visit to the headquarters of the General Confederation of Greek Labor (GSEE). «Pension reform cannot be achieved without the participation of social agencies,» he said, adding that the process of dialogue on the reform cannot be limited to the plenum of Parliament, but should also be developed in parliamentary committees and on a bilateral level between employers and unions. GSEE president Yiannis Panagopoulos gave qualified support to the proposal but declined to comit himself, saying the umbrella labor organization would discuss the matter. He said dialogue needed to be based on substantive preconditions. «One such precondition is the matter of government debts extended to social security funds. Funding is the lynchpin of the problem and if such problems are not tackled it will not be easy for talks to begin,» he said. Panagopoulos acknowledged the government’s good intentions but said they were not enough on such a key issue. He noted that governments to date have not observed their own laws as regards their funding obligations toward pension funds, particularly their contribution of 1 percent of gross domestic product. The accumulated arrears now stand at 3.5 billion euros, Panagopoulos said. On Tuesday, Economy Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis pledged after a Cabinet meeting that the government would meet all its commitments as part of the 2008 budget. Separately, the Civil Servants’ Union (ADEDY) said in a statement that it would attend a meeting with Magginas today, but added that «the government’s policy on the pension issue to date has led to a deterioration not only of the system but also the position of the insured, and as a result, does not allow participation in talks for the sake of appearances.»