Public sector to bring in parallel retirement age for men and women

A ruling by the European Court of Justice is bringing about reform of the public servants’ pension scheme in Greece by tightening the conditions for women’s retirement. Worker representatives have threatened to take strike action as a result. Legal commentators have also criticised the ruling because it classifies the pension scheme for public servants as an occupational insurance scheme rather than a statutory social insurance scheme.

Public servants’ pension scheme

The Greek Civil and Military Pensions Code, which provides for the pension scheme of public servants – both civil and military – lays down different conditions for retirement in certain cases. For the most part, such cases involve:

  • mothers, for whom the Code provides for retirement ages five to 10 years less than those of fathers;
  • other women, for whom it stipulates retirement ages five years less than those of other men.

It should be noted that meeting the conditions for retirement automatically leads to termination of the employment relationship, since there is no opportunity to remain in the job longer with a corresponding increase in pension.

The lower retirement ages for women and for mothers in particular are a means of family policymaking: they make it easier for women to retire early due to the inequalities that they are understood to experience in the division of family responsibilities. This situation has been shown in research (see for example the report on Working conditions in the European Union: the gender perspective by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions).

On the other hand, in recent years, more people – mostly feminists of the middle and upper class – share the view that the outcomes of this regulation are proving disadvantageous to women. In their opinion, it lowers retirement ages, meaning a shorter time insured and thus lower pensions, and it helps to reinforce traditional stereotypes regarding the roles of women and men in society, keeping women in a less favoured position and preventing gender equality from becoming a reality.

Different retirement conditions counter to principle of equality

According to the ruling of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) of 26 March 2009 in Case C-559/07, the provisions of the Civil and Military Pensions Code envisaging more favourable retirement regulations for women than for men run contrary to the principle of equal pay for men and women for similar work, which is laid down in Article 141 of the EC Treaty.

In the opinion of the ECJ, the more favourable retirement regulations for women are not justified as a counterweight to the impact on women’s working life of raising children, doing housework and caring for elderly relatives, because men may also find themselves in similar circumstances. Nor are the regulations justified as affirmative action in favour of female workers, because they do not help women when they are still working, but rather after they leave the labour market.

ECJ defines public servants’ retirement scheme as occupational

The principle of equal treatment set out in Article 141 of the EC Treaty applies only to occupational social insurance schemes. Thus, the extension of its scope by the ECJ to include the pension scheme for public servants was essentially based on broadening the concept of occupational scheme; according to the Greek government, the public servants pension scheme is a statutory social insurance scheme. Legal theory (see, for example, Stergiou, A., ‘Classing the public servants’ pension scheme as occupational: Errors in ECJ case law’, Social Insurance Law Review, Vol. MK, 2009, pp. 321–333) and the trade unions have criticised the ECJ for this reasoning. They argue that including the public servants’ social insurance scheme in the category of occupational insurance scheme entails a presumption that it is governed by competition law, from which statutory social insurance schemes are excluded since they are based on the principle of social solidarity.

Trade union strike call

Officials from the Ministry of Economy and Finance (Υπουργείο Οικονομίας και Οικονομικών, MNEC) and the Ministry of Employment and Social Protection (Υπουργείο Εργασίας και Κοινωνικών Ασφαλίσεων, YPERGKA) were due to meet with the Confederation of Public Servants (Ανώτατη Διοίκηση Ενώσεων Δημοσίων Υπαλλήλων, ADEDY) in January 2010 so that the trade union could state its position. Within the next few weeks, the government is to submit to the Greek parliament a draft bill introducing identical requirements for the retirement of men and women in the public sector. The changes are expected to affect more than 140,000 insured women, who will no longer be able to retire before they reach the age of 65 years. As a result, they will have to work between five and 17 years longer before retiring.

ADEDY had called a 24-hour nationwide strike for 10 February 2010. In its statement on 5 January, the trade union emphasised that if a draft bill to equalise pension requirements is submitted and passed, this will constitute a ‘new attack on the insurance scheme of public sector employees’. ADEDY warns that ‘it will have the effect of forcing tens of thousands of working women out of their jobs and will spell disaster for the insurance funds as well as the public services’. The trade union adds that implementation of the ECJ ruling ‘will erode the character of public social insurance, if the insurance scheme in the public sector becomes occupational rather than social’.

Commentary

Before any alteration in the pension system, there should be adequate consultation between the government and the public servant representatives with the aim of seeking a compromise.

Sofia Lampousaki, Labour Institute of Greek General Confederation of Labour (INE/GSEE)

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