First national conference held on social security system
With government proposals for social security and pensions reform causing considerable tension, a first national conference on the Greek social security system was held in September 2001 at the initiative of the GSEE trade union confederation. The event brought together representatives of trade unions, employers' organisations, the Ministry of Labour and Social Insurance and all the political parties. With GSEE and the government reiterating their views on reform, the conference gave employers an opportunity to air their positions on social security.
On 26 September 2001, a first national conference on the Greek social security system was held in Athens. Following a period of strikes during recent months over the issue of social security and pensions and government proposals for their reform, (GR0105108N and GR0106111N), the Greek General Confederation of Labour (GSEE) took the initiative to organise the conference. Participating in the event were representatives of the trade unions, the employers' organisations and the Ministry of Labour and Social Insurance, as well as representatives of all the political parties.
In his opening speech at the conference, the president of the GSEE thanked all the political parties and social actors for readily responding to the GSEE's invitation to attend. He then stated that by holding the conference GSEE was seeking to help create the conditions for an open national, political and social dialogue, through which broader cooperation and exchanges of views will be sought with a view to resolving the social insurance question. In this framework, he stressed that all participants were expected to make binding statements on the question. The following were set as the conference's main objectives:
- to put forward ideas and opinions;
- to propose solutions; and
- to discuss and exchange views on the issue of social security.
As far as the positions and proposals of GSEE and the Ministry of Labour and Social Insurance are concerned, they were no different from the (contrasting) initial proposals put forward on the one hand by the government on 17 April 2001 (GR0104106F) and on the other by GSEE on 14 May 2001 (GR0106112F).
On their part, the employers' organisations offered for the first time some thoughts and positions regarding the social security system, but in no cases were they part of a package of integrated proposals.
In particular, the Federation of Greek Industries (SEV) came out in favour of a flexible system of pensions, which would enable workers to retire between the ages of 60 and 67 on the basis of a system of incentives and disincentives. Apart from this, the SEV feels that special pension provisions for workers with onerous and unhealthy jobs should be retained, but that inclusion of certain categories of insured people should be re-examined on the basis of present-day conditions. SEV also believes that a combination of a pay-as-you-go (ie those currently in employment pay for the pensions of those currently in retirement) and capitalisation (ie individual workers save for their own retirement) system of pensions and the introduction of new institutions such as pension funds similar to those found in other countries may be of help in the search for appropriate long-term solutions. SEV stated, however, that individual regulations regarding capitalisation, such as the implementation of a system of capitalisation for a part of total pension contributions - eg for supplementary pensions insurance - should require the consent of workers and enterprises.
The president of the National Confederation of Greek Traders (ESEE) laid special emphasis on the need to turn the current tripartite social dialogue into a national social dialogue in which the question of social security will be a topic for discussion or consultation at the national level. ESEE maintained that the social insurance system is in need of immediate reform. Minimum requirements for such reform are the diagnosis of the problem as well as agreement between the government, the social partners and the political parties on the magnitude of the problem. In their fundamental points, the ESEE positions are no different from those of SEV; however ESEE stresses that new resources should be sought by stamping out tax and insurance contribution evasion rather than by increasing contributions and taxes, which would put greater burdens on workers and enterprises. In addition, ESEE proposes that all workers should be entitled, after every six years of work, to take a whole year of paid leave - a sort of 'sabbatical'- and that the retirement age should be increased accordingly.
The president of the General Confederation of Greek Small Businesses and Trades (GSEVEE) pointed to the need to support the principle of transferable social insurance - ie achieving uniformity of terms of insurance, so that people forced to change insurance institutions do not suffer.
The conclusions of the national conference may be summed up as follows:
- all participants expressed concrete views on the issue of social security; and
- differences in views among the various participants do not negate the possibility of continuing the discussion between the social and political actors in order to resolve the social security problem. However, the national conference failed to set a specific timetable for the course of this discussion.