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Pensioners shout slogans against the EU and the government during a march towards the EU offices in central Athens in this Oct. 8, 2012 file photo. (Yannis Behrakis/Reuters)
Pensioners shout slogans against the EU and the government during a march towards the EU offices in central Athens in this Oct. 8, 2012 file photo. (Yannis Behrakis/Reuters)

Facing impoverishment, elderly Greeks rage against pension calamity Add to ...

Employees at ATEbank, a state-run institution that recently had to be rescued, are among others to have suffered. “The (health and supplementary pension) fund of ATEbank’s employees is collapsing … as a result of the PSI, which cost €70-million,” said Konstantinos Amoutzias, president of the bank’s employee union. “We have asked the Bank of Greece since the summer to provide us with data on the investment of our funds and they haven’t answered us yet.”

A senior Bank of Greece official, who declined to be named, said: “Any fund which has asked for data on transactions and market prices has received it.” He added that, for reasons of legal confidentiality, the central bank could not reveal full details, such as the names of the banks from which it had bought government bonds in the secondary market.

Vaso Voyatzoglou, secretary general of insurance at the bank employees’ union OTOE, said: “Eventually all pension funds will end up suing the Bank of Greece in order to find out what exactly happened and how they lost their money.”

Among individuals on the receiving end of the losses is Constantine Siatras, 79, a retired lieutenant-general, who says his income has fallen by 33 per cent during the crisis.

“We should not have illusions that our pension fund will recoup what it lost from the haircut on its government bond holdings,” he said. “It’s very hard to get by as a pensioner the way things are going.”

Yet Mr. Siatras is one of the lucky ones: he still gets about €1,700 a month. Most have to survive on far less. Despite Greece’s reputation for profligacy – with reports of public sector workers retiring early on fat pensions – the average pension is about €850 a month, according to unions representing 80 per cent of pensioners.

Many pensioners have to get by on less, including Yorgos Vagelakos, a 75-year-old former factory worker, and his wife, who live in Keratsini, a working-class district near Athens. “We can barely afford to buy our grandchildren anything, not even a colourful notepad. When they ask us for one, we change the subject and then we cry,” Mr. Vagelakos said in the tiny yard of his house.

His pension of €650 a month supports himself, his wife Anna and, when possible, the family of his 42-year-old son, who is unemployed. “Thankfully my younger son and his wife have a job,” he said.

Tax increases and high prices have hit hard. “We have slashed everything by 50 per cent. At night we keep the light off to save on our electricity bill. We have become vegetarians from cutting back. We can’t take it any more,” Mr. Vagelakos said, talking while his wife cooked cauliflower and potatoes for lunch, a meal that would also feed the family of their elder son, who has two children.

“Out of 650 euros, at least 170 go for medicines for me and my wife, another 100 for electricity and 30 euros for water. With the rest we get by as we can.” He picked up a bunch of bananas. “We don’t eat these, we save them for our four grandchildren.”

Faced with the plight of the retired and public anger, officials are now promising to make good some of the pension fund losses. The government has passed a law to enable it to transfer some state-owned assets, such as real estate, into a new vehicle for the benefit of pension funds.

However, no such body has yet been established. And, as the country’s debt crisis persists, the value of its state-owned assets remains uncertain.

Additional reporting by Stephen Grey in Athens.

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