NETHERLANDS - Henk Kamp, minister of social affairs and labour in the Netherlands, has pledged to "try his utmost" to save the beleaguered Pensions Agreement.
Last June, the social partners and the government reached an agreement to reform the Dutch pensions system, but the deal has drawn fire from the country's largest trade unions, which are now threatening to reject the deal.
The federation of trade unions, FNV, which represents 19 unions, is set to cast its final vote on 12 September.
With the deadline looming, employer and employee representatives and the government are involved in tense last-minute negotiations.
Speaking at a seminar on pension fund governance in The Hague on Wednesday, Kamp stressed that a unified, joint approach was essential to preserve the troubled pension system for future generations.
"I would deeply regret any failure to reach an agreement," he said. "In the public good, the social partners, who are responsible for work-related pensions, and the legislator, who is responsible for public pensions, should all try their utmost to come to an agreement and chart a joint course."
Kamp told the audience of pension fund trustees that he had not yet lost hope.
"I don't think we will fail to reach an agreement," he said. "I hope that doesn't happen, and I don't expect that we'll fail."
But time to work out any remaining kinks is running out. The umbrella organisation of trade unions, FNV, will decide to accept or reject the agreement on 12 September, which means rebellious constituent unions must be brought into the fold within the next week or so.
The largest member union - FNV Bondgenoten, representing 475,000 workers - is still dead-set against the deal.
Bondgenoten regards last-minute talks between the FNV union federation, employer organisation VNO/NCW and minister Kamp, which took place on 31 August, with deep mistrust - particularly as the talks were scheduled on the eve of a referendum on the deal organised by Abvakabo, another union opposed to the agreement.
Starting yesterday and through 7 September, Abvakabo's 350,000 members can cast their vote, with the union advising its members to reject the deal.
Technically, FNV could still accept the deal even if both Bondgenoten and Abvakabo vote against it, but Abvakabo vice-chair Corrie van der Brenk has said she believes in that case MPs will pressure Kamp into making further concessions.
Bondgenoten does not believe Kamp is serious about making concessions and has compared overtures by the minister and employer representatives to Michael Jackson's famous dance move, the 'moonwalk' - "lots of motion, but no progress".
At the seminar on Wednesday, however, Kamp insisted he was serious about his commitment to reach common ground.
"I am very afraid of a situation where the cooperation between the social partners and between the partners and government should break down," he said. "To save the system, I need the social partners. I can assure you that, for my part, I am very willing to give it my utmost. And I will continue to do so till the very last day on 12 September."
But if the FNV were to nix the deal, it is "game over", as far as Kamp is concerned.
He will then push ahead with unilateral pension reforms that do not include any of the extra provisions included in the pension deal, but merely raise the pensionable age to 66 and adjust the fiscal framework for second-pillar pensions.
In that case, the planned new supervisory framework for real pensions as included in the pension deal will be cancelled. Instead, Kamp intends to update the existing supervisory framework.
The supervisor, DNB, had previously announced that the existing framework would be tightened considerably.
Kamp said: "One way or another, a new pensions system will be implemented as of 1 January 2013, which means by then all the relevant legislation must be completed. So this is really the moment of truth."