By S. Papapetros
Friday the 13th, and specifically the date’s appearance in May 2016, emerged as unlucky for Greek working people that will submit applications for retirement and social security benefits henceforth, as a recently passed pension reform package including cuts, higher contributions and age requirements will apply after the date.
The reform package, part of memorandum-mandated measures demanded by institutional creditors, was passed by a slight margin in Parliament last weekend and was published in the government gazette this week, meaning it is now the law of the land.
One “caste” of public sector employees – military personnel, law enforcement and fire brigade staff – will fall under the landmark bill’s provisions after July 2016.
According to estimates, some 1.5 million Greek retirees and beneficiaries will be affected by changes in the country’s social security system, as the reform aims to reduce the amount of state money funneled into the system.
The main points of the reform includes increases of contributions by working people and their employers to social security funds, reductions in monthly pension payments above 1,300 euros a month and a gradual elimination of a bonus for 380,000 lower-income pensioners.
The biggest changes in the current system are:
-- All pensions will be recalculated based on new rates of recoupment, with any difference arising (in favor of the beneficiary) to be offset after 2019 with increases until the difference is eliminated, i.e. beneficiaries receiving a higher pension now than the recalculated rate will not eligible for increases until they fall to the prescribed rate.
-- Beneficiaries with supplementary and primary pensions with a gross monthly sum exceeding 1,300 euros will face cuts. By some estimates, beneficiaries with supplementary pensions will see the latter cut anywhere from 2 percent to 48 percent, on a monthly basis. The biggest losses will be incurred by retirees of Greece’s state-run utilities (power, telephone, refining, the air carrier etc.) as well as former bank employees and other special funds, which traditionally paid out the highest supplementary pension bonuses in Greece.
-- The recent bill also foresees increases in monthly contributions by working people and their employers, 0.5 percent more, respectively, until May 31, 2019. Afterwards, the increase will be halved, resulting in a hike – from today’s rate – of 0.25 percent for both wage-earners and employers.
-- Beneficiaries of a civil servants’ welfare fund, estimated at roughly 280,000, will see retroactive reductions (from Jan. 1, 2016) in dividend payments.
-- Lump sum pension payments to retiring civil servants will be cut. Currently, applications for such payments total 62,000, dating back to Sept. 1, 2013.
-- Employed retirees will be slapped with a 60-percent reduction in social security benefits.
-- Bereavement benefits will be granted to individuals above the age of 55.
-- New ceilings for total gross monthly benefits are 2,000 euros for a single primary pension and 3,000 euros (gross) for the sum total of all pensions (primary benefits from more than one fund, supplementary bonuses etc.)
-- Five rates for a so-called “national pension” are foreseen, with rates beginning at 345 euros for 15 years of contributions (15 years of full-time employment) and reaching 384 euros for 20 years. The national pension will be granted to all beneficiaries, regardless of income and wealth criteria. It will also be granted to all beneficiaries, regardless, who live permanently and legally in Greece for at least 15 years.
-- Beneficiaries eligible for disability benefits will receive 75 percent of the national pension for disability calculated at between 67 and 79.99 percent; 50 percent of the national pension rate will be allocated for disability between 50 and 66.99 percent.
Finally, one of the most radical measures in the recent reform package affects self-employed professionals (physicians, lawyers etc.), farmers and professionals with receipts books. These segments of taxpayers will pay up to a whopping 37.95 percent – the maximum rate -- of their income for social security coverage. Specifically, 20 percent for primary (future) social security benefits, 7 percent for supplementary, 6.95 percent for health care coverage and another 4 percent to another fund granting a lump sum payment upon retirement.
Farmers are allowed a “transitional” period until 2030. Up until that year, farmers’ pensions will be calculated via two manners. A portion of benefits will be calculated based on the previous regime, and another portion will arise from the sum of the “national pension” and a retributive pension rate. As of this year, farmers must pay increased contributions by 10 percent to the relevant fund (OGA). In 2017, farmers will pay, in social security contributions, 14 percent of their declared income; rising to 16 percent in 2018; 18 percent in 2019; 19 percent in 2020; 19.5 percent in 2021 and 20 percent after 2022.
At first glance, self-employed professionals and entrepreneurs are the biggest losers from the latest reform, followed by farmers and various categories of professionals working with receipt books. Pensioners of sector-based funds will also see major cuts in benefits, as will people with more than 35 years of contributions with a salary greater than 1,200-1,300 euros a month upon retirement.