Belgium: trade unions united for decent pensions that let workers grow old with dignity.

70,000 people participated in a demonstration organised in defence of pensions. The government plans to change the pensions in a manner that might put them at risk.

Citizen and union participation in the march to defend pensions that took place on 16 May in Brussels, Belgium, was considerable. The march was organised by a trade union common front calling for “fair” pensions and proclaiming that “Our pensions are not a lottery! Growing old with dignity is possible! ”, 70,000 people demonstrated against the anticipated government reforms. Those taking part in the demonstration used the event as an opportunity to explain the situation to the public and highlight alternative pension funding options.

With regard to the public services pension system, the unions decry the fact that, rather than considering it a model, the government is seeking to make hefty cost-savings and plans to introduce a points-based pension system.

They have asserted that “the only certainty offered by this system is the certainty of having to work longer. And the value of a point is highly uncertain: if economic conditions are poor, if the state budget is tight or if the life expectancy of the general population increases, for example, the government will have the right to freeze it. A points-based pension system is therefore a lottery. ”

They reaffirm their desire to obtain:

·         A pension on reaching age 65;

·         A statutory pension that makes living with dignity possible;

·         A minimum pension to prevent a fall into poverty;

·         The gradual alignment of the statutory private sector pension with the public sector pension level;

·         Real and effective recognition of difficult, debilitating heavy, dangerous, or strenuous work;

·         Recognition of life accidents in pension calculations as if they were l time spent working;

·         A predictable pension amount that is not dependent on circumstances; and

·         The increased value of time worked through the raising of the income cap.

The trade unions consider that it is possible to fund pensions. Resources could be available with: 

·         Discontinuation of cost-savings made in social security;

·         Fighting tax fraud;

·         Fighting tax evasion;

·         Establishing increased fairness of taxes;

·         Increasing employer contributions; and

·         Reducing tax breaks.

Trade unions are calling for proper recognition of the challenges of difficult occupations over the duration of careers. They would like the federal government to be “reasonable” and to listen to “the voice of the citizens”. They point out that since this government took office,  government has chosen to raise the pensionable age to 66 (from 2025) then to 67 (from 2030). It has also decided that the unemployed and those receiving certain unemployment related benefits, including early retirement, to which employers may have contributed, will see their pensions reduced even if they started working at a very early age.

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