Pension debt seen soaring ever higher

Debts mounting in the country’s social security system are expected to balloon to 400 billion euros by 2050, resulting in pension funds requiring a large chunk of the budget to remain afloat, Finance Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis said yesterday. The ruling conservative government and PASOK launched talks on social security reform yesterday in a parliamentary economic committee that will oversee the procedure, expected to run through at least 2008. Alogoskoufis said that based on current patterns, the debt in the social security system in 44 years’ time will demand 15 percent of budget funds. The government has said that it will prepare the groundwork for reforms – such as providing an accurate financial picture – but will not implement any proposals during its current term in office. The Communist Party refuses to take part in the talks, while representatives from the Synaspismos Left Coalition have said they will make their own proposals despite opposing the government’s policy. Labor and Social Security Minister Savvas Tsitouridis pointed out that the reforms are necessary in order to make the system more socially fair. Greece’s pension system has been criticized by experts as being very complex and highly inequitable. In a bid to make their own mark on the launch of the talks, the country’s two largest union groups held a 24-hour strike yesterday in protest at labor reforms. Workers belonging to the Civil Servants’ Union (ADEDY) and the General Confederation of Greek Labor (GSEE) walked off the job, paralyzing the capital’s public transport system and shutting down state services. According to the results of a poll released yesterday, 61 percent of Greeks expect more strikes soon as the government pushes ahead with its reforms policy. The poll, commissioned by Skai radio and television station, showed that 46 percent replied that solving the labor dispute could be achieved with talks between employers and workers’ groups.