GREECE - The biggest trade union in Greece, the General Confederation of Greek Workers (GSEE), has announced a general strike will take place on 24 February, to protest against government plans for a higher retirement age and other key budgetary reforms.

The strike is the second in a row after Greek tax officials walked off the job this week. GSEE represents some two million workers in the private sector.

The government's measures, announced on 2 February by prime minister George Papandreou, are part of its package to resolve the country's ailing economy. Greece's pension gap currently stands at €4bn for 2010 while its budget deficit stood at 12.7% - more than four times higher than eurozone rules allow. So reforms need to be introduced to maintain European Commission approval of its budget plans.

Papandreou's measures also include a 10% cut on social security spending for 2010, a fight against corruption and tax evasion, reduced defence spending, and a cut bonuses across the public sector.

The government is proposing to increase the effective retirement age by two years. At present retirement age for men in Greece is 65 and 60 for women.

However, Savas Robolis, scientific director at GSEE's Labour Institute, said the union is protesting against the government's plans because their effect on the system as a whole is considered minor.

"According to our actuarial study, if we increase retirement age by two years it will bring relief to the social security system for only the next seven months," Robolis told IPE. "It would be better to focus on the real retirement age instead," he added.

The real average retirement age in Greece currently stands at 61 years. Some years ago the real retirement age was 63 years, but after several rounds of privatisation and changes in workforce dynamics the actual age at which people retired fell by two years.

"Trade unions are in favour of increasing the retirement age, but the focus should be on the real age and not the effective one," Robolis said.

Greece has also been criticised for its failure to take concrete measures following a European Court of Justice ruling last year on the pension age for civil servants.

The Court found Greece's civil and military service pension scheme is discriminatory as it includes differences in the pensionable age for male and female civil servants. The scheme allows married women and women with children to retire earlier than the otherwise required 25 years of service, and, as such, violates the principle of equal pay.

The Commission is now in the process of starting legal proceedings against Greece.

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