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Belgium reaches late-night agreement on pension reform
After days of negotiations, often late into the night, Belgium’s federal government finally reached a consensus on pension reform after midnight on Tuesday.
“We want work to be better rewarded,” prime minister Alexander De Croo said on announcing the news, reports Le Soir.
But major differences of opinion between participating parties led to a watered-down version of initial plans, sparking criticism for some of the compromises reached.
“My generation is worried about its future pension. To achieve this, we really need to dare to truly reform, both in terms of taxation and pensions,” said Conner Rousseau, president of Vooruit, who wanted a higher minimum pension.
“This is not the case. I am disappointed. Work should be more rewarding, also through our pensions.”
Catherine Fonck, leader of Engagés, said on Twitter that there were still people left out of the reform package.
“Agreement on pensions? For some measures, yes. But what is the message of the [Belgian government] to the pensioners who have worked hard with a much lower pension than in other countries? To those who combine different employment statuses? To those who have a hard job? To the young people who are being handed the hot potato?” she asked.
Minimum pension after 20 years' work
Reforms agreed upon include a requirement to have worked for 20 years in order to receive the minimum pension, though this stipulates that certain periods of absence or illness will be counted as work. It was a sticking point for many who were concerned that women who take maternity leave would lose out.
“The agreement reached doesn’t lead to a miserable pension for women, and I am delighted about that,” Groen co-chair Jeremie Vaneeckhout said in a statement.
“Still, this agreement is not the final point of the pension reform but rather a reasonable first step. Under the previous government, the social footprint wasn’t a consideration. Now we are moving forward. This agreement takes into account people who had a part-time job and therefore gives many women a minimum pension they can live on.”
French-speaking socialists had wanted the qualifying minimum number of working years to be 10, but the stipulations about counting certain periods of absence as leave are intended to serve as the compromise for accepting the 20 years asked by Liberal parties.
Boost to women's pensions
Other reforms include a pension bonus for those who don’t take early retirement, which is aimed at increasing the effective retirement age, plus a boost to women’s pensions.
Hoping to improve the situation for women and others who stopped working in order to care for their children, anyone who worked part-time before 2001 will be entitled to lower working time requirements in order to obtain the minimum pension. Instead of having to have worked for 250 days a year, 208 will be considered acceptable.
Two areas in which the government could not reach an agreement were part-time pensions and the revision of the SNCB and military pension plans. These issues have been passed on to social partners for further debate and discussion.
Details are still being debated and decided, including the exact amount of the pension bonus and which types of leave will be counted as time worked.
Photo: Prime minister Alexander De Croo, minister of pensions Karine Lalieux, minister of public administration Petra De Sutter © Belga/Hatim Kaghat