Pain ahead for Greece's pensioners

As Greece defiantly shouted “oxi!” yesterday, the nation went wild with patriotism. Blue and white flags sold faster than ouzo on a hot day.

But not all the people said “no” to the bailout deal offered by the IMF and other creditors. A third of the nation wanted to accept the deal on the table and make do.

After all, it could all go very wrong. Greece could be kicked out of the EU and forced to rebuild its economy with a return to the drachma.

For those who have worked hard all their lives and don’t have the time or energy to start from scratch, the uncertainty must be terrifying.

What would happen to the older generation in a nation with a collapsed economy and almost 50 per cent youth unemployment rate? At best, they would become a burden on their children; the worst is unthinkable.

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The pension has been one of the main sticking points for negotiations between Greece and the creditors, including the International Monetary Fund.

Existing austerity measures have seen the pension in Greece shrink, with further cuts proposed in the terms of the bailout deal the country rejected.

Greece’s pensioners in recent weeks flooded banks, withdrawing their money for fear it would disappear forever. When the country officially went into default and the banks put a 60-euro limit on daily transactions, many older people without debit cards were caught without cash.

On Friday the world watched as Greece’s retirees stormed the banks and they were devastating scenes. One man collapsed to the ground in tears, his useless savings book beside him.

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The 77-year-old man was retired mine worker Giorgos Chatzifotiadis, who had queued up at four banks in the hope of withdrawing a pension on behalf of his wife. When he was told he could not withdraw his 120 euros ($133), it was all too much and he collapsed in tears. Mr Chatzifotiadis told AFP, “I see my fellow citizens begging for a few cents to buy bread. I see more and more suicides. I am a sensitive person. I can not stand to see my country in this situation,” he said. Another retiree, 59-year-old Billis Vaghelis, told Fairfax on the weekend he would vote to reject the bailout deal. He said his vote was a “No to [German chancellor Angela] Merkel, a No to [EU president Jean-Claude] Juncker, who have been threatening the survival of our country”. “They have been devouring and humiliating Greece,” he said. “We want an end to further (austerity) measures, no more reductions to wages and pensions that render people hopeless and violate their dignity.” A fifth of Greece’s population are pensioners, and that figure is set to rise. However, the amount of money held in pension funds has dropped by €25bn in the last five years. This is partly due to the massive unemployment rate, which means there aren’t enough contributions from the working population.

Zina Ravi, 79, relies entirely on her pension and says she is still in debt every month.
She is one of the high numbers of Greeks claiming a pension – and is having to help a middle-aged son who is now one of many unemployed Greeks.

“I am always in debt,” she told Reuters. “I can’t even imagine going to the cinema or the theatre like I did in the past.”

Whatever happens next, it’s going to cost pensioners but at least the prime minister is standing by his January election promise not to cut pension rates. Here’s hoping the rest of the EU shows as much compassion.

How would you have voted in the referendum: yes for a financial bailout that meant further cuts to your pension; or no in the hope the prime minister can renegotiate with the creditors?