First step on pension talks

Greece’s largest union group, GSEE, conditionally agreed yesterday to take part in parliamentary talks on social security reforms as the government attempts to convince voters of the need for the controversial changes. GSEE President Yiannis Panagopoulos said the group, which represents more than 2 million private sector workers, refuses to take part in one-on-one talks with the government but will participate in parliamentary committees addressing the issue. GSEE will take part in public talks on reforms in regards to the financing and unification of funds, boosting low pension payments and addressing operational issues for funds, according to Panagopoulos. News of GSEE agreeing to talks is seen as a positive step for the process after the Communist Party (KKE) and the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) flatly refused to sit in on any discussions. Greece’s social security system is expected to face serious financing problems in as little as eight years from now, according to some experts. A report by Nikos Analytis, the head of a government-appointed committee called upon to examine the country’s social security system, said necessary changes include increasing the age at which workers qualify for pensions and cutting down on early retirement. Earlier this week, the Bank of Greece welcomed Analytis’s report but said even more measures are needed to solve the problem. The government, with a slim majority in parliament, is preparing to face serious opposition on the proposed reforms. «It will be very difficult to find common ground between the government and social groups on the pension issue. The vital bet for us is to convince the community of the need for changes,» a senior government source said. Voters recognize the importance of the issue but do not appear convinced that tough measures are the only way out. A survey commissioned by Kathimerini showed that 77 to 80 percent of those questioned do not believe an increase in contributions or raising the pension age is necessary to keep the system alive. More than seven in 10, however, agreed that the problem must be immediately addressed. The government is hoping to legislate pension reforms in the first half of 2008.