NEWS

Tension mounts ahead of crucial pension bill vote

Tensions mounted within the ranks of PASOK last night as a high-ranking cadre became the first among the ruling Socialists to publicly state outright that he would oppose certain provisions of a controversial pension reform bill due to be voted on in Parliament today. The statement by Apostolos Kaklamanis, a former parliamentary speaker, came ahead of a vote, due late last night, on the pension and labor reform bill in its entirety. The bill is to be voted on article by article this afternoon. Kaklamanis said that he was particularly opposed to one article regarding arbitration disputes between employers and staff. The objections of the high-profile PASOK cadre, who also opposes plans to scrap two additional holiday payouts to pensioners, prompted the mediation of Prime Minister George Papandreou himself, Skai Television reported. Meanwhile speculation peaked about at least another six PASOK deputies who, it is feared, will also vote against provisions of the draft bill today, a development that may put the government’s unity and its rescue package from international creditors in jeopardy. In a bid to appease concerns among ruling party deputies, Labor Minister Andreas Loverdos introduced a second raft of last-minute changes to the text of the draft bill yesterday. According to sources, these changes include financial incentives for workers from certain social groups, such as single mothers, to opt for early retirement. Loverdos also added a provision offering early retirement for civil servants insured with their pension fund between 1983 and 1992. These concessions came on top of commitments written into the text of the draft bill on Tuesday guaranteeing «decent pensions» to citizens and the protection of auxiliary pension funds. Opposition parties yesterday fiercely criticized the controversial cutbacks which the debt-ridden government has pledged to push through, along with other austerity measures, in exchange for 110 billion euros in loans from the International Monetary Fund and European Union member states. The leader of the main opposition New Democracy, Antonis Samaras, insisted that «there is another way» and that the government’s measures are harsher than necessary.