No rest for gov’t as strikes loom

Without having had time to bask in the afterglow of its expected victory in the confidence vote in Parliament early yesterday morning, the Inner Cabinet today gets down to the business of discussing imminent changes to bank pensions in the face of mounting union opposition. After sailing through the vote of confidence – 165 MPs voted in favor of the government and 120 deputies voted against, all along party lines – the government was forced to hit the ground running yesterday as bank employees picked up where they had left off on Friday, by staging another rolling 48-hour strike. The Federation of Bank Employees’ Union (OTOE) said it intended to keep the strikes going at least until Thursday, when it will be joined by other unions. OTOE appeared unmoved by arguments from Economy and Finance Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis that all avenues had been explored to come up with a plan to streamline the complex bank employees’ pension system. Alogoskoufis will reveal the precise details of the plan soon after the Inner Cabinet meeting, but his proposal for a supplementary fund is not expected to differ greatly from the one he put to banks and their employees earlier this month. According to the proposal, two-thirds of the fund’s cost will be covered by the banks and the rest by the state. «In any case, the state’s contribution will be in line with public interest, the constitution, and the competition laws of the European Commission,» said Alogoskoufis, after suggestions that Brussels was not pleased with his proposal. The plan has met with opposition from unionists who fear that their future earnings will be eroded and OTOE’s president Dimitris Tsoukalas has accused the government of handling the matter clumsily by setting a deadline – last Friday – for workers to accept the deal or have the government force it through. Meanwhile, the country’s two largest unions, the umbrella GSEE (private) and ADEDY (public), confirmed that they will stage three-hour work stoppages from noon on Thursday in support of bank employees, as unionists grow increasingly worried about further social security and pension reforms from the government. «The lack of a real plan and [the government’s] high-handedness has undermined social dialogue, creating a lethal cocktail which fuels reactions,» GSEE warned in a statement.

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