Athens.- Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis was briefed by two of his government’s top ministers on Saturday over ongoing reactions — mostly by trade and sector unions — to a pair of crucial reforms unveiled this month, namely, banking sector pension reform and lengthier store hours.
Economy Minister George Alogoskoufis and Development Minister Dimitris Sioufas, respectively, briefed the prime minister on an ongoing strike by the bank employees’ union and reactions to the extended store hours by chamber officials representing mostly smaller shops and stores.
Although most private banks have been unaffected by the two-week strike, called by the OTOE union, higher turnout at the state-run National, Emporiki and ATEbank financial institutions has caused problems with pension and unemployment payments, whereas check clearances are also backing up.
The government, nevertheless, has stood firm over its closely watched decision to shift bank employees into the primary state-run Social Security Foundation (IKA) and to create a framework for unifying individual supplementary funds in the sector.
A standardised 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. shop hours schedule throughout Greece — longer if judged necessary in tourist areas — is also considered by the government as a breakthrough step aimed at creating new jobs and increasing retail sector turnover. Merchants, however, will not be obliged to open for the maximum 12 hours allowed. Additionally, the government has repeatedly stated that Sunday will remain a holiday for businesses.
In exiting the meeting, Alogoskoufis said he briefed the premier on the steps his ministry is taking to minimise the bank strike’s repercussions, especially in terms of payments to taxpayers, revenue collection and pension payments.
He added that a draft amendment regarding banking sector pension reform will be tabled in Parliament on Monday, while repeating that taxpayers will not pay “even a euro” for the plan, and that pension rights for individuals hired before Dec. 31, 1992 will not be affected.
Alogoskoufis forecast that only certain technical details will be changed in the draft amendment, whereas he again echoed government officials in saying that the pension reform is imperative for the very existence of a handful of large state-run banks.
On his part, Sioufas said he first briefed the prime minister over a recently signed agreement with Italy for an underwater natural gas pipeline connecting the two countries, a deal that was cemented roughly a week before the Greek and Turkish premiers inaugurate a gas pipeline on the Greek-Turkish frontier on the Evros River.
Sioufas, moreover, defended the decision to unify and extend — by two hours — shop hours, citing what he called a “simple and fair” decision that will benefit consumers and merchants alike, as well as to create new jobs.