Friday, March 21, 2008

Greece passes pension reform bill

General strike brings Greece to a halt

Greece's parliament has narrowly passed the conservative government's controversial pension reform bill that triggered mass public protests.

The bill passed with 151 votes in favour, 13 against and 136 abstentions.

The reform is to eliminate most early retirement schemes, merge pension funds and cap auxiliary pensions.

The plans have outraged unions and civil servants. Tens of thousands of workers took to the streets on Wednesday in a series of strikes.

Athens clashes

As legislators debated the bill inside parliament, police and protesters clashed outside the building.

"The government is stealing the people's money. It's that simple," the leader of main opposition socialists, George Papandreou, said before his party's 102 deputies walked out of the vote.

"People have worked hard for their pension rights. Now, they are being taken away from them in the most arrogant way."

The conservatives have 152 MPs in the 300-seat parliament, but one did not vote due to illness.

A nationwide strike by civil servants on Wednesday paralysed transport and closed public offices.

Trade unions said millions of people took part in the 24-hour action, which was marked by clashes in Athens.

Re-elected last September, the conservative government of Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis wants to overhaul Greece's debt-ridden pension system.

It had warned the system faces collapse unless the sweeping reforms are implemented.

More than 130 social security and pension funds are to be merged into 13 funds, cutting administration costs.

The government also wants to raise the retirement age in some sectors, and give incentives to those who continue working after the retirement age, which currently stands at 65 for men and 60 for women.

A survey by the banking unions showed that 71% of the population opposes the pension reforms and 69% supports the strike.

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