BELGIUM - Belgium has decided to increase the minimum age for retirement from 58 to 60, in line with recommendations from the European Commission – despite trade union concern.

Certain workers may still be able to retire at 58, though, such as shift-workers or those that though are involved in heavy manual labour.

The FGTB, one of the largest trade unions in Belgium, has criticised the government plans as being a “step backwards in social legislation”.

Speaking on behalf of the organisations, Rudy De Leeuw said: “The legislation is unfair because it tends to be older people that have to move aside for younger people in the company, and they need to have the option of taking retirement early.”

Business groups have welcomed the government’s efforts to extend the retirement age - but have some reservations that the latest plans include so many exceptions that the retirement age could effectively stay at 58.

Thomas Compernolle, speaking on behalf of business lobbying group Unizo, told IPE: “60 is a very important milestone because the age has been heightened for two years but there are so many exceptions to the government’s_plans that in many cases the age stays at 58.”

For example, Compernolle said that there are still a number of cases when workers can take time of work, so that in effect they are not paying into the social security system, and yet still leave the workforce at the minimum retirement age.

He also complained that there is still unfair discrimination against the self-employed compared to company workers. Self-employed people who wish to take early retirement, before the normal pension age of 65, lose a proportion of their final pension – but employed persons do not.

The new system will come into force from 2008, although their remains some issues that still have to be resolved through further negotiations, such as which professions can be exempted from the new rules on the grounds that they consist of mostly heavy manual labour or shift-work.