PM set on pension reforms

Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis promised yesterday to carry through with pension reforms, despite strong union protest, saying an overhaul of the ailing system was imperative. Karamanlis’s warning followed a 24-hour general strike on Wednesday that shut down public services across the country and forced all flights into and out of Greek airports to be canceled. «We are facing a dead end which we must…prevent,» said Karamanlis. «There is no margin for delay, we must act now.» The conservative government, re-elected in September, has pledged to fix the country’s pension system, which is expected to collapse within 15 years if nothing is done, due to an ageing population, but it has run into stiff opposition and strikes. It is expected to submit its pension reform bill in the coming weeks. Protesters peacefully marched outside Parliament during the prime minister’s speech, demanding that current benefits not be changed. The government has seen its popularity plummet in recent months to the lowest level since it came to power in 2004, largely as a result of a series of scandals and economic reforms. Greece’s fragmented social security system, which includes 155 main, auxiliary and health funds, will be the initial focus of the changes, Karamanlis said. «This (number of funds) constitutes a major problem. They are overly bureaucratic, a waste of resources and frustrate citizens with poor service,» he said. Officials have said the government plans to merge the plethora of funds into about four to six main ones, raise the age limits in some job categories and provide incentives for workers to stay at work longer. Karamanlis has repeatedly promised not to raise the retirement age of 65 for men and 60 for women, but has said that hundreds of professions currently entitled to early retirement will have these privileges drastically cut. «Millions of citizens are demanding justice,» Karamanlis said. «We can’t sacrifice the good of the many for the benefit of the few.»