“This law will not be passed!”, said demonstrators in front of Greece’s parliament in Athens last March. They had gathered to protest against reforms to Greece’s pension system, which were eventually voted for by the legislature’s conservative majority.
Since 2004, Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis had promised reform. Reelected in 2007, a conservative press accused him of failing to act quickly enough. Previously made up of 130 different types of pension, the system has now been cut down to 13.
Under the new plan, Greeks will be made to work longer and beyond the previous legal retirement age – 65 for men and 60 for women.
The reason is simple. While births in Greece have increased slightly in the last few years, life expectancy has also risen. The average Greek man now lives to 77, with women averaging at 82.
Without reform, experts estimated Greece’s public pension pot would have been 400 billion euros in the red. But the reforms have hit many, especially women, who would previously have benefited.
And, while the annual income of Greeks compares well with the European average of 18,500 euros, unions claim the poverty line in Greece is much lower, with some people living on less than 5000 euros per year.
Employment uncerntainty can be particularly felt at Olympic Airways, where demonstrations are ongoing. The government plans to privatise the national airline and slash some 8,000 jobs.
Long seen as a burden to Greek taxpayers, Olympic continues to make losses even on some of its most profitable routes. In 2007, the company had estimated debts of about two billion euros.