Unionist backs pension reform

Several months after taking to the streets in vehement protest against government plans to reform the debt-ridden Social Security system, some unionists now appear to have embraced at least part of the government’s proposals. In an interview with the Sunday edition of the Greek Kathimerini, Christos Polyzogopoulos, president of the General Confederation of Greek Labor (GSEE), agrees that auxiliary pension funds can freely invest in markets, which would be expected to produce more benefits for their members. He urges the government to reform social security now and agrees that rationalization of the system will lead to an extension in working years. When then-Labor Minister Tassos Yiannitsis unveiled his reform package in March, unionists of all political stripes exploded in anger. That package included proposals for extending the retirement age, providing a role for private pension schemes and merging pension funds. What worried the government most at that time was that it’s own unionists, that is, members of the ruling Socialist party, were actually leading the protests rather than rushing to catch up with and contain extremist elements. With Polyzogopoulos at their head, they clamored for the government to retreat from its proposals, which the embattled government promptly did. The unionist line back then was that they would accept no changes in the retirement age and that they held the government responsible for ensuring the viability of the system through generous budget contributions, estimated at one time as upward of 800 billion drachmas per year, which constituted more than 5 percent of the total budget. This concession was considered the minimum required for them even to sit down and start a dialogue on reforming social security. It was this reaction, and the resulting upheaval within the ruling party, that prompted Prime Minister Costas Simitis to bring forward the party congress and reshuffle the Cabinet last month. Today, Polyzogopoulos appears to have subtly shifted his views. We (the GSEE) are the first to be interested and are in a hurry, even to promote solutions that will not merely patch up problems. Leaving (reform) to some indeterminate future or proceeding with partial solutions will only make problems grow and solutions far more painful, he says. While not abandoning his demand for a greater contribution by the government, Polyzogopoulos now speaks of many possible sources of income for social security, including the free investment of auxiliary pension fund resources in the market. It does not frighten me if auxiliary pension funds branch into other income-making activities (because) these would improve the lot of pensioners. Maybe after a decade or so, the main pension funds will stop functioning in their present form. Polyzogopoulos is under criticism by more radical unionists for having backed off from his previous positions, a fact he denies. Still, his views and those of the government appear to be converging. Last week, experts from the International Monetary Fund wrote of how surprised they were at the existing consensus for reform, and urged the government to proceed quickly. -Transport Ministry holds a conference presenting the Business Plan of the General Transport Secretariat and its Participation in the Business Program ‘Information Society.’ At the ministry’s amphitheater. For further details, call 650.8031.

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