NEWS

Pension reforms voted into law despite protests

The government declared yesterday that the country’s debt-ridden economy was on the road to recovery following Thursday’s approval in Parliament of radical pension and labor reforms despite protests by thousands of workers who staged the sixth general strike this year. «This extricates us from a dead end and from the risk we faced of being unable to pay out pensions in the coming years,» government spokesman Giorgos Petalotis told Skai’s «Proti Grammi» program in the morning. Despite concerns earlier in the week that several deputies from ruling PASOK would vote against specific articles of the draft bill, the voting progressed without hiccups. The plan was approved in principle late on Wednesday after Prime Minister George Papandreou reportedly appealed to Socialist deputies to show solidarity. The bill’s individual provisions were approved on Thursday as workers protested outside Parliament. Late Thursday night the entire package was approved by a vote of 157 in favor and 134 against. Another three MPs abstained and six were absent. Labor and Social Insurance Minister Andreas Loverdos had revised some of the provisions in the original bill to overcome objections by several PASOK deputies. Protest rallies against the reforms, organized by the country’s two main labor unions on Thursday, drew around 12,000 people – a small turnout compared to previous demonstrations. The strike paralyzed public services and transport as thousands walked off their jobs to protest the reforms, which cut pension payments and raise retirement ages. There was only one report of violence, which involved a 29-year-old protester who was attacked by youths that mistook him for an undercover officer, police said. Tensions escalated briefly outside Parliament in the early afternoon when a group of masked youths squared up against riot police officers but the former quickly retreated. Despite Thursday’s muted response to unionists’ rallying calls, civil servants’ union ADEDY yesterday called a fresh strike for next Thursday, starting at 11 a.m. and continuing until the end of the working day, to protest additional legislative provisions affecting the pensions of civil servants, due to be voted on in Parliament then. The pension and labor reforms are part of a bundle of austerity measures the government has pledged to push through in exchange for a 110-billion-euro rescue package from its European Union partners and the International Monetary Fund.