Social Security and STAGE Program in Greece - The Best from Greece

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Posted on: 14/Nov/2009

Prime minister George Papandreou responded in parliament on Friday during the "Hour of the Prime Minister" to questions submitted for him in the House by the three smaller opposition parties on the social security system, the STAGE subsidised work experience programs and the 'golden boys' salaries.

Papandreou referred the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA parliamentary alliance) to the dialogue on the social security system and invited the alliance to submit its own proposals, speaking in parliament on Friday during the "Hour of the Prime Minister" in reply to charges by SYRIZA Alexis Tsipras of "compliancy" by the government towards the European Commission with respect to the social security issue.

Papandreou asked "specifically from SYRIZA" to submit its own proposals and to avoid the past practice of "facile criticism from the outside", and reiterated his government's opposition to the so-called 'Petralia law' on social security reform passed by the preceding New Democracy (ND) government, but did not commit himself to abolishing laws passed in the past decade.

Elaborating on a relevant question tabled in parliament, Tsipras made reference to the Treaty of Rome and all the other European accords according to which, he said, the European Union has the authority of checking governments on their countries' deficits, but not on the condition of their social security systems.

"The people did not put you (PASOK) in office to carry on with the neoliberal policy of New Democracy (preceding government) but to reverse it. With every day that goes by, however, it is like undergoing the Chinese water torture. Drop by drop, piece by piece, and under the pretext of the pressures, which are real, you are facing from Brussels, we see the same policy. The difference, though, is that Mr. Karamanlis (main opposition ND leader and former prime minister) defended this policy before the elections as being necessary and effective, whereas you are following it 'dragged' by your comrade Mr. Almunia (EU commissioner for economic and monetary affairs)," Tsipras said.

"No Commission, no Mr. Trichet (European Central Bank president) or Mr. Almunia can impose retirement ages or increases in contributions to benefit fiscal discipline. With what right did your Minister concede such a right to Brussels. What kind of reform is this, which has the highest contributions and lowest pensions Europe-wide? The GSEE (General Confederation of Workers of Greece) Labor Institute assesses that an increase in retirement ages will not bring viability to the (social security) system," Tsipras added.

Responding, Papandreou said that "I can agree with much your criticism of the EU. I, too, have clashed personally with Mr. Almunia on the ease with which he accepted the stock-taking (of the Greek economy by the ND government), putting the Greek economy into the excessive deficit procedure".

"I wish our problem was Mr. Almunia, but our social security organisations are on the brink of bankruptcy. We strongly criticised the Petralia law (as the main opposition party), and unfortunately we have been proved true. All that we had charges holds true, and that is why we are speaking about a change of the entire system. One thing is certain, however. The matter is too serious to deal with it cursorily, with patches. We cannot plan the social security system while ignoring the basic parameters of the market, labor, competition, the operation of the businesses. This is why we are commencing dialogue with all the agencies, the social partners, and will continue the dialogue so that the options decided on will be viable," the prime minister explained.

"We will clash with the rationale that the pensioner and the Greek family should pay for the immense debts of the social security funds as they were bequeathed to us by the (preceding government of) ND. We are here to build a viable social security system, and to do this with the broadest possible consensus," Papandreou concluded.

To a question tabled by Communist Party of Greece (KKE) leader Aleka Papariga on the STAGE issue, Papandreou noted that the ad hoc committee set up by the new government for revision of the provisions governing the STAGE programs and 'rented' employees will be ready in December, and opined that the existing lawlessness prevalent in the job market should not lead to prohibition of flexible forms of employment, which he said are a social necessity.

Papandreou championed the idea of a state that protects its working people, guarantees lawfulness and averts "labor jungle phenomena", but on the other hand also permits part-time employment for learning purposes (apprenticeship), or by choice.

However, tenured employment for everyone does not exist anywhere in the world, the prime minister added.

In her question, Papariga disputed the necessity of flexible forms of employment, maintaining that the time when women wanted a part-time job has long gone. "750,000 women today work either part-time, or in Stage programs, or as hired-out employees, under 'black (uninsured) work' contractors. This phenomenon did not appear with the economic crisis, which is real. These policies were being applied in Europe before the crisis, and it is clearly the Commission's intention to expand them," Papariga said.

She charged that the marginal point that the economy has reached is a result of the discrepancies of a structure that is founded on profit and will never pick itself up again if it doesn't not widen and deepen such forms of exploitation.

"Work is not an opportunity. It is not a matter of meritocracy. Work is a consolidated right and lasting need," Papariga stressed.

Papandreou replied that the government was not seeking that the unemployed, youth and women come to terms with unemployment.

"Rather, we are here to protect the right to full-time employment. As for the STAGE and apprenticeship, I agree that the framework has been distorted, but I disagree that they are a negative thing. For a young person to acquire experience on the job is not negative, but it helps him associate practice with theory, provided that these forms of employment are not distorted and do not replace full-time work, thereby undermining the rights of the other working people," Papandreou explained.

To a question tabled by Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) leader George Karatzaferis, who called for a ceiling to be placed on the "provocative" salaries of the golden boys, which he said were higher than even that of the President of the Republic, the prime minister said that very soon the "lies will be over" and the government will table legislation that will put an end to the undermining of all sense of fairness and to the provocative practice of unjustified waste of the Greek taxpayers' money, and will also avert such incidents in the future.



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