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Slovenia adopts pension reform to stave off bailout

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Tue, 4 Dec 2012 17:24 GMT
Author: Reuters
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By Marja Novak

Dec 4 (Reuters) - The Slovenian parliament passed a long-delayed pension reform on Tuesday aimed at helping the small euro zone member state to manage its finances without having to seek an international bailout.

Trade unions and other citizens now have 7 days during which they can demand a referendum on the new law which could prevent its planned enforcement on Jan. 1, 2013.

So far no trade union had said it would demand a referendum but last year a similar reform prepared by the previous centre-left government was rejected at a referendum demanded by trade unions which led to the fall of the government and early elections.

The pension reform, prepared by the new conservative government of the Prime Minister Janez Jansa, was supported by all 76 parliamentary members who were present at the vote. The parliament has a total of 90 members.

The new law will gradually raise the retirement age to 65 from 58 at present and cut budget spending on pensions by 1 billion euros (${esc.dollar}1.3 billion) over the next five years.

"The pension law has been coordinated with the social partners, among them trade unions, as much as possible ... It ensures financial stability of the pension system and undisturbed payments of the pensions," Labour Minister Andrej Vizjak told parliament before the vote.

Slovenia, which is burdened by recession, high unemployment and bad loans at local banks, managed to issue its first sovereign bond in 19 months in October, raising enough to avert a bailout for at least six months.

The government plans to cut public sector wages and jobs, reduce most social benefits and cut spending on schools and health institutions in order to reduce the budget deficit to about 3 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2013 from 4.2 percent seen this year.

However, two of its reform laws, which would enable faster privatisation, have been stalled by a trade union and an opposition party which demand referendums claiming the laws could lead to a hasty selloff and raise corruption risks.

The government has asked the Constitutional Court to ban the referendums, claiming the laws are crucial to ensure Slovenia's financial stability.

Street protests against local and state governments, corruption and budget cuts started last month and have turned violent in several cities. On Monday evening police arrested 141 protesters around the country and at least 30 policemen and civilians were injured in the clashes.

Slovenia, whose export-driven economy has been badly hit by the global and euro zone crises, expects GDP to contract by 2 percent this year and by a further 1.4 percent in 2013 as budget cuts and economic weakness across the euro zone deter household and corporate spending. (${esc.dollar}1 = 0.7642 euros) (Reporting by Marja Novak; Editing by Ruth Pitchford)

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