Greece to call time on cushy pension deals for 'unhealthy' jobs

By Menelaos Tzafalias
Sunday 23 October 2011 03:40

The trombonist's lot is not always a happy one. He needs a lot of puff, he often gets outshone by the more glamorous man on the saxophone, and it's a hard instrument to carry on a crowded train. But there are perks – in Greece, playing the instrument is deemed "arduous and unhealthy" and means players can retire at 50.

Plans for further austerity measures and reforms to the Greek pension system – whose generous provisions have sparked fury across eurozone nations forced to bail out the stricken country – yesterday brought 25,000 people on to the streets to march on parliament. As part of its pledge to tighten up its finances, the Greek government has introduced a bill that will radically raise retirement age and decrease pensions, sparking public outrage and a walkout.

Like many EU countries, the general retirement age in Greece is 65, although the actual average is about 61. However, the deeply fragmented system also provides for early retirement – as early as 55 for men and 50 for women – in many professions classified as unhealthy.

Trombonists are among a select group of professionals that includes bakers, hairdressers and masseurs, who are allowed to retire early because of the nature of their work. And some of the striking civil servants yesterday leapt to defend the system. "What if these people have been working from their teenage years?" said Yanna Venieri.

The Greek authorities detained about 100 people before the protest to pre-empt a repeat of disturbances earlier this month that followed the government's announcement of a drive to reduce Greece's huge debt in exchange for a bailout from its eurozone neighbours and the IMF.

But anger may have receded since then and many Greeks say they have been put off by the raw violence of that 5 May march when three bank clerks, including a pregnant woman, were killed after rioters lobbed petrol bombs into the branch where they worked.

Yesterday protesters chanted "Thieves come out", and "bring back the stolen money and get out of there", outside parliament as riot police carrying batons and shields ringed the steps of the neo-classical building. But after an hour most of the crowd melted away and the security forces filed off soon after.

The general strike was called by unions representing 2.5 million workers, half the country's workforce, who want the government to withdraw austerity measures agreed with the EU and IMF in return for a €110bn (£95bn) emergency loan. It closed schools, halted ferries and trains, and kept hospitals running with only emergency staff. The Acropolis and other ancient sites in Athens were also shut.

The Labour and Social Security Minister Andreas Loverdos has been charged with reforming a creaking pensions system, trying to simplify the labyrinth of rules and abolish some early retirement rights. Hairdressers may retire early on generous pensions as their profession is still classed as "dangerous" because in the past they handled dangerous chemicals such as hair-straightener and blonde hair-dye. Pastry chefs, like trombonists, can retire because of the potential for breathing problems in later life.

In the end, Greeks will have to work more years, pay a bit more into the system and receive smaller pensions.

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