New front

The sailors’ union strike is a typical example of the tensions being prompted by social security-related issues. At the same time, it shows how problems can intensify when the government’s stance lacks consistency. It would be no exaggeration to claim that the seamen’s strike was triggered less by the distance separating the government from the sailors’ demands than by the fact that the government appeared to make pledges to the Panhellenic Seamen’s Federation (PNO) while simultaneously taking them back. This was not because the government changed its mind, but because of poor communication between responsible officials, who handed out economic pledges without taking the fund’s capacity into consideration. It makes one wonder why Labor Minister Dimitris Reppas, the man behind the social security bill, contradicted himself in signing an amendment granting seamen a pension rise that would put an unbearable strain of 40-50 billion drachmas (117-147 million euros) on the budget – which already covers 75 percent of the seamen’s pension fund (NAT). It’s hard to understand why Reppas signed the amendment, and why Merchant Marine Minister Giorgos Anomeritis, who has promised sailors that their pensions would reach the level of other pension funds (that is 70 percent from the current 60 percent), disregarded the overall spirit of the legislation promoted by Reppas. He also disregarded the objections raised by Economy Minister Nikos Christodoulakis, who said that there is no money for such handouts. At best, there are funds for only a gradual increase over the next five years. This frivolity forced the government to take back the promises made by its ministers. This regression, in turn, outraged sailors even more than the five-year agreement they might have accepted, had it been made clear to them that justified as their demands may be, there is no money to meet them right now. It’s hard to pinpoint the cause of the government’s inconsistency, but this is not just a case of negligence or sloppiness. The disagreements inside the government clearly reflect essential differences on issues of methodology, but also private objectives linked to the desire of certain ministers to wear a more worker-friendly face. Whatever the reason may be, government inconsistency has generated a new front that could stir a broader reaction against social security reform – a reform that introduces but a bare minimum of the painful measures needed for the future.

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