New minister in attempt to revive talks with unions

Newly appointed Employment and Social Security Minister Fani Palli-Petralia called on union groups to participate in talks on pension reforms as the conservative government braces for the next round of strike action set to start tomorrow. Palli-Petralia, who took over from Vassilis Magginas on Saturday, was sworn in yesterday as head of the Employment and Social Security Ministry and said that talks over proposed reforms have reached a critical stage. «It is certain that we are at the most crucial stage (of pension reforms). The luxury of time no longer exists,» she said. Magginas handed in his resignation to Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis on Saturday after a press report said he had built a holiday home in a forested area in Koropi, northeast of Athens, without the proper permits. Press reports had also previously accused him of employing uninsured migrants at the Koropi home. Sources said the appointment of Palli-Petralia, who has served as tourism minister, does not signal any change in strategy for planned reforms that have dented the government’s popularity despite the pressing need for changes. Economists believe that Greece’s pension system will face a crisis within a decade as the population ages unless radical changes are made. Following last week’s nationwide general strike that brought the country to a standstill, journalists, lawyers, engineers, doctors and chemists will walk off the job for 24 hours tomorrow. The government has proposed merging the country’s 155 pension funds to fewer than 10 and plans to reassess who qualifies for dangerous and unhealthy work condition benefits, which also provide for early retirement. According to government sources, Palli-Petralia will keep to the goverment’s targeted time frame of pushing pension reforms through Parliament in the first half of next year. Meanwhile, Economy and Finance Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis denied yesterday being called in to help oversee the planned changes after Magginas became the third employment minister to lose his job in four years.

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