Utility reforms on hold

The government decided yesterday to postpone its reforms at public utilities as ties with worker groups remain strained after a series of broader reforms in the job market. Sources said that reforms at public utilities are likely to be put off for another month or two, pushing back the original end-April deadline. Economy and Finance Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis admitted on the weekend that this may happen. «If the deal between the GSEE (General Confederation of Greek Labor) and SEV (Federation of Greek Industries) is further delayed, then we have the possibility of an extension to [implementing] the reforms,» he said. GSEE and SEV are scheduled to meet tomorrow to discuss 2006 pay hikes. Moves to abandon collective wage agreements in the banking sector, along with the proposal by SEV of pay hikes for 2006 that are lower than inflation, have left workers accusing the government of quietly siding with employers. Workers argue that the government has not supported them on key labor issues but the ruling conservatives have called for sacrifices to be made by both sides. The public utility reforms include keeping pay hikes this year to 3 percent and trimming employee benefits. The conservative government has been pushing its reform program as a means of improving productivity and stoking growth. The successful operation of public utilities is seen as being crucial to the economy, as they have an immediate impact on growth, inflation and state finances. However, a poll made public yesterday suggested that the labor reforms have come at a price for the government. According to a survey commissioned by GSEE, about 67 percent of Greeks believe that recent changes to the law favor employer groups, while the majority (66 percent) of respondents disagree with government policies aimed at fighting unemployment.