Wouter Koolmees, the Dutch minister for social affairs, has indicated that he is not prepared to take special measures to prevent benefit cuts at pension funds.

Speaking to Datuch radio station BNR last week, he said that any solution had to form part of a comprehensive national pensions agreement between unions, employers and the government. Negotiations about such an agreement collapsed in November.

Koolmees was responding to questions about the metal industry schemes PME and PMT, which have urged the cabinet and the social partners to take measures to avoid cuts to pension rights.

Both pension funds face having to make cuts in 2020 if they are still underfunded at the end of 2019. PME’s coverage ratio dropped to 101.3% at December-end, while PMT’s funding stood at 102.3%. The required minimum level for coverage is 104.3%.

“During the negotiations about a pensions agreement, we have offered to lower the minimum level to 100%, but this was in the context of an overall accord,” argued Koolmees. “You just can’t just solve the issue by turning a single button.”

Wouter Koolmees

Credit: Mark Prins

Koolmees: “You just can’t just solve the issue by turning a single button”

The minister said there would be almost an entire year available to sort out an agreement, adding that he would focus all his efforts to achieve a pensions deal this year.

Lodewijk Asscher, leader of opposition party PvdA, also called on the government to restart negotiations to prevent “unnecessary” cuts.

“While the bills for both shopping and energy are rising as a result of choices made by this government, millions of people are facing pension cuts,” he said.

Gerrit van de Kamp, chairman of police trade union ACP and action co-ordinator at union VCP, brought a similar message on the Netherlands’ Radio 1.

“The cabinet refers to pensions as the responsibility of the social partners, but seems to forget that it is the government that is setting the rules,” he said. “If the government deems a higher discount rate for liabilities not sensible, why is it raising households’ financial burden?”

Dutch trade unions were preparing protests against benefit cuts that, according to Van de Kamp, could include strike action.

The planned industrial action is to culminate in a special “action day” on 18 March, just ahead of provincial elections. Provincial councillors will elect the members of the Netherlands’ upper house in May.

The government is expected to lose its majority in the senate, which opposition parties and trade unions believe would improve their future negotiating position about pensions reform.