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Greece approves pension reform bill

Latest update : 2008-03-21

Greece's parliament approved a controversial pensions reform bill on Thursday evening, as protesters outside clashed with police. The reforms have prompted millions of Greeks to strike. (Report: G. Cragg)

ATHENS, March 21 (Reuters) - Greece's parliament approved
the conservative government's pension reform bill early on
Friday after weeks of protests and strikes by labour unions.

The legislation overhauls a pension system experts say will
collapse in 15 years if not changed.

The bill passed in the 300-seat house with 151 votes in
favour, from conservative MPs and one independent, and 13 MPs
from the Leftist Coalition against. All other parties, including
the main socialist opposition, abstained.

Labour unions accuse the government, re-elected in September
on pledges not to curtail pension rights, of going back on its
word. They have criticised the planned reforms for limiting
benefits without improving the system.

Several hundred protesters remained outside parliament
throughout much of the evening vote, a day after millions of
Greeks walked off the job, grounding flights and closing ancient
monuments, schools and banks.

"Today we must be very proud because our government
fulfilled its pledge to the Greek people and in a few minutes
this great pension reform plan will become a law of the state,"
Labour Minister Fani Palli-Petralia told parliament just before
the vote.

Unions got unexpected backing from the European Central
Bank, which criticised the bill on Wednesday because it said it
threatened the Greek central bank's independence.

Opposition parties tried to delay the bill hours before the
vote by gathering signatures to force a referendum.

"It is apparent that there is a great gap between the
government's position and the will of society," Leftist
Coalition leader Alekos Alavanos told parliament.

Under Greece's constitution, it takes 180 deputies to call a
referendum. Opposition parties do not have that many but have
enough to demand a special session to discuss the referendum,
which could have delayed the bill from becoming law for several

However, parliament ruled to hold the discussion on the
referendum next week, a decision that allowed the vote to go
ahead and the bill to be approved.

The reform bill affects mostly women, and especially working
mothers. It merges scores of funds into just 13, cuts many
special pensions and offers incentives to work more years.

Protests in recent weeks have caused blackouts, left
mountains of rubbish in the street, disrupted transport and
services, and halted trading on financial markets for days.

Greece, one of several European Union countries facing a
pension crisis due to an ageing population, has been urged by
Brussels to revamp its fragmented, wasteful and mismanaged
social security system.

Experts say that if the Greek system is left unchanged, the
pension funds' actuarial deficits could reach 400 billion euros
($611.6 billion), almost twice the country's GDP.

Date created : 2008-03-21