Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras sought to reassure his leftist SYRIZA party’s lawmakers on Tuesday that the government would avoid further cuts in pensions in a bid to secure their backing for the next raft of measures under the country's bailout.
Tsipras, whose parliamentary majority in the 300-seat House has shrunk to three, failed to secure the backing of opposition parties on Saturday for tough pension reforms the country has promised to submit by December under its international bailout.
The leftist-led government has already raised the retirement age, increased healthcare contributions and scrapped most early retirement benefits to get part of the financial aid promised by its European lenders.
But Athens needs to introduce deeper reforms by the end of the year to make its ailing pension system viable, including merging several pension funds into one and cutting back supplementary pensions.
“We will do the utmost to secure pensions without further painful cuts … and, at the same time, we will try to make the system viable again by proposing an entirely new system,” Tsipras said, without providing details.
Greeks are weary after six years of punishing austerity and the painful pension overhaul will test the political loyalty of leftists committed to greater social justice.
The country's two biggest private and public sector unions, representing about 2.6 million workers, have called a general strike against pension reform for Thursday, the second nationwide walkout in under a month.
Tsipras met center-left, center-right and centrist opposition leaders on Saturday to seek a broader consensus when the reforms come before Parliament but they declined to form a joint committee to prepare proposals.
That prompted Greece's central bank chief to appeal to party leaders to maintain political consensus to help pull Athens itself out of its financial crisis once and for all.
“There has been a high degree of consensus when the (bailout) deal was voted in by a big parliamentary majority last July,” Bank of Greece Governor Yannis Stournaras told Mega TV in a statement on Sunday.
“It (the consensus) should be safeguarded to secure political stability, support a definite exit from the crisis and pave the way towards growth,” he said.