July 24, 2014
An old problem
Last Tuesday’s Supreme Court ruling pressing for the payment of pension arrears might seem just one more empty appeal in a series stretching back at least seven years but there are various different nuances in both this ruling and the general situation. Instead of just appealing to the social conscience of a government with other fiscal priorities, this ruling proposes concrete action against the legal bottlenecks by decentralizing appeals to their province of origin instead of forcing them to pile up in this city’s Federal Social Security Court where hundreds of thousands of lawsuits languish. And nor have government ears been entirely deaf — rather than outright defiance of the Supreme Court, the attitude of ANSeS social security administration has been more along the lines of the “I heed but I do not comply” of the old Spanish viceroys, appealing the pension arrear lawsuits every step of the way but also paying up in 10 percent or more of the pending cases annually. ANSeS can see light at the end of this tunnel — since there has been no legal basis for suing since the 2009 law to update pensions, the combination of legal settlements and deceased pensioners in the intervening five years means that the arrears are a finite and diminishing quantity which might become quite manageable in a couple of years.
Yet a ruling both positive and constructive does not mean happy days for pensioners — if the 2009 law finally updated their benefits across the board, the latest March increase of 11 percent is inadequate for the inflation of the last six months, never mind the price rises between now and September. The legal and financial situation of pensioners has often been at cross purposes. The economic boom years of 2002-6 with fiscal surpluses were, paradoxically enough (or perhaps not paradoxically at all), also years in which only the minimum pension was raised, albeit substantially — the fact that the official inflation figures were beyond all dispute in these years has simplified the subsequent litigation. The Supreme Court’s Badaro ruling of 2007 effectively ordered the 2002-6 pensions above the minimum to be retroactively updated — while this ruling was resisted and apparently ignored by the government and while some of the years since 2007 have seen economic slowdown and all of them fiscal decline (where pensions may have been a factor), it has gradually been implemented. So much so that the legal bottleneck might well have become the main barrier — and this has now been tackled by the Supreme Court.
Springtime for pensioners in legal terms but in the real world winter is approaching.