Thursday 18 August 2022

Rutte meets opposition leaders in bid to restart pension talks

Pensioners on a bench

The cabinet is trying to reform the pension system. Photo:

Opposition leaders have met prime minister Mark Rutte in his office in an attempt to break the deadlock in the long-running talks to reform the Dutch pension system.

Labour party leader Lodewijk Asscher said he expected to see a shift in position by the cabinet on the issue as he arrived with his GroenLinks counterpart Jesse Klaver on Monday.

The talks broke down in November when unions walked out, saying the cabinet was not prepared to compromise enough on the state pension age. The retirement age is gradually due to rise to 67 by 2021 and under current rules it will continue to increase in line with life expectancy.

Unions have held a series of strikes and demonstrations in recent weeks as part of a campaign to freeze the age at which workers can claim their pension at 66. They also argue that the law needs to be made more flexible to take account of people in physically demanding jobs who often have to stop work in their early sixties.

Social affairs minister Wouter Koolmees said last week that he wanted to get back to the negotiating table with unions and employers to resolve the impasse. He also said the cabinet ‘sees room to be less stringent about the link between the state pension age and life expectancy’.

New senate

The loss of the government’s majority in the senate last week also means it will now need the support of one of the larger opposition parties – either Labour (PvdA), GroenLinks or Forum voor Democratie – to steer its legislation through the upper house.

‘I take it the cabinet is going to move,’ said Asscher, who was deputy prime minister in Rutte’s last government, as he arrived for the meeting on Monday morning. ‘It is high time there was movement.’

Klaver added: ‘I’m assuming that we have been invited because the cabinet sees room [for manoeuvre]. We will have to see where it ends.’

Experts say the Dutch pension system – a combination of a state pension (AOW) and corporate pension schemes – needs to be reformed to fund the retirement of a growing number of elderly people who are living longer on average.

Long-term low interest rates have also put a strain on the vast employers’ pension funds, which have been unable to sustain the amount of capital reserves that they are required to have by law.

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