PM ready for showdown

With the parliamentary debate over the government’s controversial bill to reform bank workers’ pensions to start today, the prime minister reassured his aides over the weekend that he is still fully committed to pushing through the changes, despite unionists standing in his way and cash machines in danger of running out of money. The debate over the draft law is due to culminate when MPs vote on the bill on Thursday and the Federation of Bank Employees’ Union (OTOE) has said it will continue its strike – today entering its fourth week – until then. Unionists object to plans to create a single auxiliary pension fund for bank workers and to register all new bank employees with the main state social security fund, IKA, by 2008. However, Premier Costas Karamanlis made it clear to Economy and Finance Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis and Development Minister Dimitris Sioufas, whom he met on Saturday, that there was no way he was turning back from his policy of structural reforms. Alogoskoufis emerged from the meeting saying that he had contacted the Hellenic Banks Association to ask them for suggestions on how banking services could be restored for business and personal customers. The minister said that the government was ready to take legislative action to get the system up and running again. The worries for the government will be compounded if, as predicted, the cash machines of the National Bank of Greece, Agricultural Bank and Geniki Bank – the state-controlled banks leading the strike – begin running out of money today due to security staff, who load the ATMs, joining the strike. Meanwhile, the government ruled out the possibility of amendments to the bill being discussed during the debate. This could lead to internal unrest as New Democracy MP and former party leader Miltiades Evert has made it clear he wants to table an amendment asking for an independent study into the cost of registering bank workers with IKA.

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