December 10, 2008 / 10:01 AM / 11 years ago

FACTBOX: Greece's economic policies opposed by unions

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece’s two largest union federations held a nationwide general strike on Wednesday in protest at the conservative government’s policies, as anger at economic hardships fueled the worst riots in decades.

Here is a selection of implemented reforms and measures Greece’s conservatives have taken:

PENSIONS:

Despite fierce union opposition, parliament approved in March an overhaul of the ailing social security system whose actuarial deficits are estimated at twice Greece’s 240 billion euro GDP. Experts predicted a collapse of the system in 15 years unless changes were made and warned the reforms may not save it.

Many workers, however, were angry they were being asked to increase pension contributions as they feel the pinch of the global economic downturn.

The changes included merging 133 pension funds to form 13, raising retirement ages, eliminating special and supplementary pensions, and giving incentives to work for more years.

PRIVATISATIONS:

The New Democracy government auctioned stakes in Greece’s largest ports in Piraeus and Thessaloniki (OLTr.AT), and sold a stake in telecoms company OTE.

It has also pledged to push ahead with the privatization of several state-owned companies, such as Olympic Airways and Postal Savings Bank. Other assets to go on the auction block may include Athens International Airport.

The sales were pushed through despite strong opposition by unions fearing job losses and wage cuts as new management tries to ride out the worldwide economic slowdown.

WAGES:

A law ending employees’ right to collective wage contracts won approval in parliament in August. The government said it wanted to clean-up debt-ridden state companies and overhaul protective labor laws to attract more foreign investment.

Finance Minister Alogoskoufis told parliament the reform should be pushed ahead “for the sake of the Greek economy and society,” as high wages have added to state companies’ debts, which ordinary Greeks had to cover with their taxes.

EDUCATION:

Efforts to change the constitution and allow the creation of private universities met with violent protests in recent years and led to the resignation of an education minister. The government has pledged to move ahead with the reform which it says is necessary for a more competitive work force.

TAX MEASURES

A package of tax measures designed to raise flagging fiscal revenues in the face of an economic slowdown was approved by parliament in August. The reform removed an exemption from tax for self-employment people earning less than 10,500 euros a year — which had benefited many of Greece’s poorest.

It also imposed a 20 percent increase in tax in car licenses and introduced a 10 percent tax on capital gains on shares, replacing the existing 0.15 percent on the sale of equities.

Reporting by Renee Maltezou; Editing by Daniel Flynn

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