Unions harden pension stance

Labor unions yesterday hardened their stance toward pension fund reform, snubbing a government overture as deceitful. General Confederation of Greek Labor (GSEE) President Yiannis Panagopoulos branded a government announcement that it planned to replenish the coffers of Greece’s ailing social security system «sheer mockery.» «Government debts to the Social Security Foundation (IKA) is a penal violation amounting to embezzlement,» he said. Earlier the National Economy Ministry had announced it would provide 1.5 billion euros annually toward state debts to pension and healthcare funds, plus the 1 percent of gross national product, as required by law. GSEE said on Tuesday that the state owed IKA about -9.8 billion, which was projected to rise to -12.38 billion by the end of 2008. Outstanding contributions to smaller pension funds came to about -1.5 billion. As a result, GSEE said it would not respond to the government’s call to participate in the broad dialogue, which started in Parliament’s plenum yesterday. «The government’s proposal for funding the social security system on the one hand does not meet its legal obligations, and, on the other, does not render workers’ contributions which it has unlawfully retained,» said Panagopoulos. «Any discussion is inconceivable if the issues of financing and payment of arrears is not resolved in a proper and fair manner for the pension funds,» he added, warning that the scheduled general strike on December 12 would signal «the start of a period of struggle» for the labor unions. It is clear that GSEE will also abstain from talks on government plans to merge most of the country’s approximately 170 pension funds. Unions say that more than 70 percent of Greek pensions are below -600 a month.