Softer pension stance

The government sought to convince the public yesterday that its efforts to overhaul Greece’s pension system are not divisive, as it attempted to smooth over disputes that have broken out with a number of professional groups, including journalists. Following a backlash from a number of unions opposing plans to merge at least 155 pension funds into just five, the government adopted a more conciliatory approach yesterday. Government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos assured voters that the ruling conservatives have no intention of raising the retirement age or the way that retirement payouts are calculated. He also assured unions that pension fund assets would not be harmed by plans to merge wealthier funds with ones that are experiencing financial difficulties. «The only thing that will change is that 10 percent of indirect levies will go into a separate account at the Bank of Greece so that we can combat the deficit in the social security system,» said Roussopoulos, countering charges that the government plans to take the surpluses of some funds and use them to make up the deficits of others. The journalists union ESIEA has reacted angrily to the government’s plans to merge funds, arguing that no assurances have been given about the level of pensions in the future and that benefits which have accrued over the course of a working life could be lost. There have even been suggestions that Roussopoulos, a former journalist, should be removed from ESIEA. In keeping with the government’s policy of trying to ease tension over the issue, Roussopoulos reacted coolly to the threat. «That is the beauty of democracy,» he said. «Everyone can express themselves in the way they want to.» ESIEA has called a 24-hour strike for Tuesday, which will disrupt newspapers, television and radio, but the government believes that the union has overreacted to its plans and that its members have not been properly informed about the reforms. Government sources indicated yesterday that in a bid to win over the public, the conservatives are planning over the next few days to announce a set of measures to cut some of the pension benefits enjoyed by MPs, judges and other high-ranking public employees.