Pension bill passed, with opposition

Reforms to the social security system are to become law today after a three-day debate that ended yesterday was marked by the conservative and Communist opposition parties walking out of Parliament. The 300-member house yesterday voted by 144 to 131 to accept in principle the reforms, which entail more state funding for the system and greater standardization of the retirement age. In many cases, they enable people to retire earlier (for example, at any age after 37 years of work), in others, they raise the retirement age of certain privileged groups. They are designed to function until 2032. The ruling PASOK party, the conservative New Democracy party and the two small left-wing parties maintained their positions on the bill. The government insisted the reforms ensured the viability of the system, the conservatives charged that the bill was sloppy and did not even begin to solve the social security issue, while the left said the legislation was against the interests of workers. The reforms are a mere shadow of those presented by the government in March 2001 and which labor unions, opposition parties and even members of PASOK denounced as demanding more years of work for fewer benefits. Protests led to Prime Minister Costas Simitis replacing his labor minister and the government coming up with diluted reforms. At the start of the debate on Tuesday (which was accompanied by a national strike) Simitis said that the government had simply changed its views on how long these reforms should be effective for. «We judged that it was not fruitful for us to legislate for 50 years into the future.» The law demands that the State contribute 1 percent of GDP toward social security annually. Employers and employees also will contribute. New Democracy said it «refused to take part in a political defrauding of the people in the name of so-called reforms.» National Economy Minister Nikos Christodoulakis accused the Communists of «undemocratic methods such as (Tuesday’s) occupation of the Finance Ministry.» Communist Party MP Dimitrios Tsiongas replied: «That was nothing. The government will constantly find us in its way from now on.»