Government officials spent much of Tuesday locked in talks as the country’s creditors insisted that an overhaul of the private labor sector and pensions both remain the focus of the current round of bailout negotiations.
The key trigger for the talks was a document written by the chairman of the group of eurozone finance ministers, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, and presented in the Dutch Parliament ahead of a Eurogroup meeting next week according to which Greek pension reforms must be tackled in the second bailout review.
Responding to reports Tuesday, in comments to the Athens-Macedonian News Agency, Labor Minister Giorgos Katrougalos hit back. “The pension issue was resolved in the first review and is not going to be reopened in the second,” he said.
Despite the strong words, Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos and Katrougalos held several hours of talks to determine the progress that authorities have made in implementing pension reforms that were voted through Parliament earlier this year with a particular focus on the unification of multiple pension funds.
According to sources, Greece’s creditors want the government to take a series of actions including collecting the outstanding social security contributions of self-employed professionals with debts to the funds.
The authorities are reluctant to reopen the pensions issue, which is extremely politically contentious, as pensioners ratchet up their protests over ongoing cutbacks.
Retirees are to hold another rally against further cuts to their incomes Wednesday at Kotzia Square in central Athens.
“The auxiliary pensions of November will once again be slashed… and have now become nothing more than a tip,” the union representing pensioners said in a statement Tuesday. It also accused Katrougalos of attempting to mislead retirees with promises that pensions will be increased in due course.
Equally thorny for the government is the issue of labor relations. Foreign auditors are pressing for authorities to ease laws and allow more flexibility in the labor market so that struggling businesses can fire more workers and the minimum wage can be reviewed yet again.