Pension reform debate kicks off

The Greek social insurance system needs moderate reform measures rather than a drastic overhaul, but some of its parameters do require broad changes, a senior business leader said yesterday. «The need for reforming the social insurance system is riper than ever… We want a system in which all Greeks will be equal and fairly treated. We need to re-examine the regime of heavy and hazardous occupations, which now exceed 500, and also merge the funds, which number 149 today. Furthermore, we need to look in depth into invalid pensions, bogus medical prescriptions and the unchecked increase in spending on medicines,» said Costas Michalos, president of the Athens Chamber of Commerce and Industry (EBEA). He urged all sides to participate in the process of national dialogue on the issue, with a view to arriving at rational and urgent decisions. Last week, the General Confederation of Greek Labor (GSEE) said it would not take part in the talks, claiming that the government had failed to honor past funding commitments, but would attend the parliamentary debate and hearings, which start today. Sources said Employment and Social Security Minister Vassilis Magginas, in opening the debate, is expected to state he has no objection to it starting with a discussion of the funding issue, which GSEE has set as a prerequisite for its participation in the talks proper. Michalos urged the government to meet its commitments to the funds, adding that pensions should not be cut and the retirement age should be left intact. Fund mergers Separately, government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos said the multitude of individual social security funds would be merged into about 10 or even less. Asked if the mergers also implied that some pensions would be reduced, he said the issue was a difficult one and everyone’s views would have to be taken into account so that the best solution may be found. «There is no doubt that the system has to change in order to be strengthened,» Roussopoulos said. In a rather discordant move yesterday, however, the government granted an extension to payments of social security contributions to the Social Security Foundation (IKA) already due by enterprises to November 30. IKA labor unionists said the total dues came to about 3.2 billion, and charged that the measure encouraged the evaders further. Roussopoulos said the extension mainly concerned small and medium-sized firms which faced financial difficulties. Asked if the government would pay its dues to IKA, he said, «this is the intention.» «It is impossible for a government to meet all the debts that have accumulated over the years within just 3.5 years.»