Bank reform storm
The clash between the government and bank unions over pension fund reform intensified yesterday, with the employees’ federation claiming that the changes would affect older employees as well as younger ones and extending its strike through Tuesday. The General Confederation of Greek Workers (GSEE) also raised the pressure, with its chairman saying the country’s largest umbrella union would call a 24-hour strike for next Friday. Bank employee representatives, who have been on strike for 10 days, were encouraged yesterday by greater participation in the walkout and a vigorous protest in central Athens. Mainly employees of state-controlled banks are protesting at the government’s proposal to create an auxiliary pension fund and gradually register all bank employees with the state’s main social security fund, IKA, by 2007. The proposal, which is the first effort to tackle the urgent issue of social security reform, has been prompted by a requirement under International Financial Reporting Standards that all listed companies, including banks, include pension liabilities on their balance sheets by the end of June. The two banks at greatest risk from the IFRS demand are the state-controlled Emporiki and Agricultural Bank. Although participation in the strike by employees of private banks has been limited, a three-hour utility and transport strike in solidarity with bank employees yesterday, along with a midday march through the center of Athens, caused considerable disruptions to other banks and traffic in the capital. At the same time, rumors that the proposed changes to the pension system would affect all bank employees, and not just those hired after 1992 as the government claims, helped fire up workers who had not taken part in the strike. In keeping with the growing spirit of discontent, the employees’ federation (OTOE) held a meeting in a hall at the Bank of Greece which had been the meeting place during a strike in the 1980s that lasted 40 days. All this, along with the fact that even some government members privately complain that the coordination of the effort to bring about the changes has been clumsy, has complicated the Labor Ministry’s work as it prepares the necessary legislation.