Women come out on top in social security

Greece is among those advanced countries which have taken steps to dismantle discriminatory practices against women and, in fact, has been ahead of many of those countries. That is true of the laws governing social security, where women even receive favored treatment. Women are treated equally with men over eligibility, contributions and dependents. In relation to retirement ages, beneficiaries and the extent of benefits, women are better off than men. Women receive special treatment from the Social Security Fund (IKA) and other social security bodies, which normally provide for a retirement age five years lower than that for men. This differential is not peculiar to Greece but also exists in other European states, such as Italy, Austria and Britain. While Article 1 of the law on pensions lays down that ordinary civil servants are entitled to a pension after 25 years in service, an exception is made for married women, widows or divorced women with children, who can retire after only 15 years in service. Similar provisions cover women in the state sector as a whole (in public utility companies, and so forth). The social security funds for freelance professionals and entrepreneurs (the Merchant’s Fund and the fund for the self-employed, TEBE, for instance) on the whole provide for equal retirement ages for men and women. In IKA (the fund for private-sector employees), a mother with underage children is entitled to a pension at the age of 55 and larger daily payments (5,500 drachmas, or over 16 euros, against 4,500 drachmas, or 13.20 euros). The legislation in force until 1998 that covered IKA and other social security funds falling under the competence of the Ministry for Labor and Social Security stipulated that the widow of a deceased insuree was entitled to a pension on condition that her husband had earned a minimum of 1,500 days’ worth of wages. The widow of a civil servant is still entitled to a pension, as long as he has worked for five years. By contrast, a widower can only receive a pension if he is destitute or unable to practice any profession. In 1999, the pension status was revised (by law no. 2676) for widows as well as widowers insured with social security funds falling under the competence of the Social Welfare Ministry. Pensions were adjusted according to age while ceilings were imposed on income, thus worsening the position of women in relation to the previous law. But this did not apply to the civil service, where the law was not changed. The children of a deceased parent insured with, or drawing a pension from, IKA, irrespective of sex, receive a pension until the age of 18. In the private sector, women are not specially favored. By contrast, the daughters of insurees in the state sector enjoy more favorable treatment than boys. Article 5 of the pension law provides for a pension to unmarried girls on the death of a parent, while boys can only receive one until the age of 18. Later, this pension was subject to a means test, and can now be reduced up to 50 percent of the amount. In the state sector, even daughters of deceased parents who married and then separated can receive a pension, under certain conditions stipulated by law 1654/88. Wherever the law on social security funds lays down provision for parents in case of the death of a child, they receive equal treatment, regardless of sex. But some funds, the lawyers’ fund for instance, do discriminate in favor of the mother. Most social security fund legislation for the private sector does not provide for the sisters of the insuree or pensioner. But some funds in the state sector make provision for unmarried sisters under certain circumstances. All social security laws quite properly encode special provisions for pregnant women, supplying income and other benefits. Reform 1990-93 The special treatment of women as described above, with respect to retirement ages and special pension provisions, was maintained by social security laws passed by the New Democracy party, though minimum retirement ages were imposed on the civil service and state sector funds. Retirement ages, both for the state sector and for IKA, were raised between 1990 and 1992 to 65 for men and 60 for women. To be phased in gradually, they only applied to those who had fulfilled pension requirements after January 1, 1998. Those who fulfilled requirements before then could retire at 53. Mothers with underage children, married women without children or with adult offspring, widows or divorced women with unmarried children had to spend 15 to 17.5 years in work, as long as they had been appointed before December 31, 1982. Women with underage children had a minimum retirement age of 44.5 as long as they had been appointed before December 31, 1982 and had worked for the required number of years by December 31, 1997, and a minimum retirement age of 50 if they met pension requirements after January 1, 1998. Minimum retirement ages, of course, are quite different for men. Women who became insured after the entry into force of the social security reform (January 1, 1993) were made equal with men in accordance with EEC directive 79/7 on the equal treatment of men and women in the area of social security. But mothers with underage children who were insured after January 1, 1993, still received special treatment over the minimum retirement age, which was set at 50 for both the state and private sectors. These derogations aimed at supporting motherhood, and were accepted as good grounds for discrimination both by the Constitution and the EEC directive. PASOK and insurance for women The aborted reform proposed in April 2001 by the PASOK government attempted to do away with these gains for women. New Democracy reacted strongly to the reform, while the chairman of the party, Costas Karamanlis, expressly and categorically declared that his party insisted on the minimum retirement ages as laid down by the social security laws of 1990-93, saying that he would not accept any changes that were unfavorable to working mothers. The fierce reaction to the reform caused it to be withdrawn; but the issue remains on the table. Measures needed It is not changes in pension requirements that will save the social security system. More drastic measures are needed, such as: – The full implementation of the 1990-93 reforms. – The restructuring and rationalization of social security bodies in order to avoid overspending. The introduction of automatization and information systems needs to be speeded up. – The gradual unification of similar funds, both main and supplementary. Unification will be more economical in the long term and reduce expenses, to the insurees’ benefit. – Efficient exploitation of the funds’ property, which comes to over 5 trillion drachmas (14.5 billion euros) through real estate companies and mutual funds. – Tackling the large-scale evasion of insurance contributions effectively. – Issuing a social security card which would facilitate checks on personal data. – Reform of medical care, which is funded by social security bodies. – Adoption of incentives to encourage people to stay at work past retirement age, as part-time workers on half pension. – Tightening up the criteria for disability pensions with the purpose of wiping out the phenomenon of fictitious pensions. – Reviewing the category of heavy and unhealthy labor. – Examination of the extension of the three-part funding of insurance claimants for those insured before 1993. – A permanent mechanism for the automatic support for poorer pensioners. – Speeding up growth, which leads to an increase in employment. – Increase in insuree numbers, through tackling unemployment and the labor black market, and incorporating immigrants into the system. – Organized and consistent policies to deal with the demographic issue, which constitutes a grave national and social problem. (1)Dimitris Sioufas is the general secretary of New Democracy’s parliamentary group and former minister of health, welfare and social security.