BELGIUM - Belgian authorities are bracing themselves for protests and potential industrial action by trade unions today (March 30) over the country’s new second pillar pensions legislation.

Anger is focusing particularly on early retirement provisions, which are being tightened considerably under the new law.

Henk Becquaert, advisor in the cabinet of Belgian social affairs and pensions minister Frank Vandenbroucke, explained the background to the protest at the European Pensions conference, organised by the European Federation for Retirement Provision (EFRP) and the Royal Institute of International Affairs (RIIA).

Under the previous second pillar legislation there was no set retirement age, he said.
“ In some schemes you could have a pension at the age of 35 with all the tax advantages of a second pillar scheme.”

While Becquaert noted that the use of the system in such a way was exceptional, citing the case of sportsmen, he noted that it had introduced a pensions loophole
“This system was increasingly being used to encourage early retirement.
“ It could be used by employers and unions at the age of 50 or 55. An employer could pay in BFr1-2m to retire someone at the age of 55.”

The new pensions legislation has a retirement age of 65 with early retirement only possible at age 60, said Becquaert.
“ Trade unions are organising action and in some companies are looking to have strikes.”
He added: “Also by the back door companies are coming and saying why do you want to change that rule?”

Such pressures made pensions issues very difficult to handle, he said: “We will have to see what happens as a result of the industrial action.”