Pension clash looms

Plans to merge Greece’s disparate pension funds look set to put the government on course for a head-on collision with unions, who poured more scorn on the idea despite the government’s efforts to defend the scheme. Bank workers joined journalists and teachers yesterday in saying that they will stage industrial action to protest the plans of the ruling conservatives. The Greek Federation of Bank Employees’ Unions (OTOE) will hold a three-hour work stoppage next Thursday, whereas journalists and teachers will hold a 24-hour strike on Tuesday. Doctors at the Social Security Foundation (IKA) began a 48-hour strike yesterday as the head of the country’s largest private sector union, GSEE, said that Greek workers and pensioners would take their inspiration from social security protests in France. «Workers and pensioners are following our French comrades… who are defending their social security system,» said Yiannis Panagopoulos. «The same thing will happen in Greece as well.» Earlier this week, Employment Minister Vassilis Magginas said that New Democracy plans to reduce the number of pension funds to five from 155 in a bid to streamline the system and ensure that money is in place to cover pension payments in the future. Some unions, including the journalists’ group ESIEA, are opposing this idea because they fear that their members will lose out if their fund is merged. «One fund cannot stand on its own,» said government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos said. «If it stood alone it would give the false impression that journalists want to be apart from all other Greeks,» said Roussopoulos, a former journalist. PASOK spokesman Yiannis Ragoussis accused the government of adopting an «unacceptable approach» in trying to solve the pension crisis. He said the plans to merge various pension funds would «turn funds with a surplus into ones with a deficit.» The leader of the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA), Alekos Alavanos, said the government was attempting to take away the benefits that certain groups had worked hard to acquire over the years. «This is not a government of social cohesion, it is a government of hate,» added Alavanos.