Greek pensioners protest benefit cuts, pin hopes on court
Hundreds of elderly Greeks protested against deep cuts to their pensions outside the country’s top administrative court on Oct. 6, as reforms passed to comply with international bailout demands leave them with ever less cash to live on.
Greece has been reeling from the impact of repeated rounds of austerity over the last seven years, as its creditors seek remedies for years of financial mismanagement that have culminated in the country needing three international bailouts.
Last year its official creditors pushed the leftist-led government to reduce the proportion of its budget spent on pensions, which are paid for by high tax rates, as a way to stimulate economic growth.
Pensioners have seen their benefits cut more than a dozen times since 2010 after Greece’s debt crisis came to light.
They have turned to the Council of State in Athens, the top administrative court, in a bid to halt the latest cuts, which are due to take effect in 2019.
About 600 protesters on Friday held banners reading “take the money from those who have it, not from pensioners” outside the court, blocking traffic on a busy central Athens avenue.
They are hoping that the court will rule the cuts unconstitutional, although no court decision is expected soon.
“My pension has been cut by more than 50 percent and I fear that after the cuts in 2019 I will lose my home,” said Christos Papadopoulos, 66, a retired telecommunications technician.
“I still owe the bank on the house and pay a small amount every month while also supporting two unemployed kids and my wife,” he said in a trembling voice. “It’s a depressing life, we delay paying electricity and water bills to get by.”
With unemployment at 21 percent and double that for Greeks under 25, pensioners on a steady income have long been a key anchor of support in austerity-hit Greek households.
Greece’s bailouts since 2010 have repeatedly taken aim at the pension system, which was also severely hurt by a 2012 debt restructuring that chopped the value of government bonds that most state pension funds held, hurting their finances.
Athens is aiming to exit its latest bailout next August and rely on market financing after repairing its fiscal derailment that shrank its economy by more than a quarter.
“My pension has been reduced to 900 euros a month from 1,200 euros and with the new (austerity) measures in 2019 it will drop to 700 euros,” said Stamatis, 67, a retired finance ministry worker.
“To get by we turn heating on only when it snows and forget about air-conditioning in the summer,” he said.