Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Greece grinds to a halt

With the country in the grip of a massive 24 hour strike much of Greece's economic life has ground to a halt as workers groups as diverse as road cleaners and lawyers stopped work and protested. In addition the streets of most major cities have filled with uncollected rubbish and are nightly plunged into darkness by rolling power cuts. The conservative government's plans to reform Greece's problematic pension funds have continued to stir up a wave of protests which are expected to continue even after tomorrow's parliamentary vote on the reforms.

The government of Kostas Karamanlis insists that the Greece's aging population means that the only way to prepare for the future is to slim down the country's 133 pension funds to 13, reduce payments to those retiring early and increase the retirement age for other groups. Labor Minister Fani Palli-Petralia added that the changes would safeguard citizen's pension rights  for the foreseeable future.

Opposition leaders argue that the deficits in the contributions to the pension funds are the result of the unwillingness of many employers to pay contributions. Indeed the Greek state itself owes the nearly 8 billion euros in unpaid dues according to the Rizospastis newspaper.

Also the country has seen it's population increase by over a million during the last 15 year as many ethnic Greeks from the ex - Soviet republics moved to Greece along with immigrants from other countries such as Albania. Most are of working age, however, many work in agricultural and construction where, due to lax checks by the state and high levels of unemployment, businesses are able to avoid paying social security contributions.

An opinion poll carried out by VPRC showed that 69% of Greeks supported the strikes and over 70% disagreed with the government's reform plans.

Greece grinds to a halt Greece grinds to a halt Greece grinds to a halt Greece grinds to a halt Greece grinds to a halt Greece grinds to a halt Greece grinds to a halt Greece grinds to a halt Greece grinds to a halt

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