NETHERLANDS - Abvakabo, the largest public sector union in the Netherlands, has voted against the new Pensions Agreement following a referendum among its 350,000 members.

Earlier, FNV Bondgenoten, the largest trade union with 475,000 members, also rejected the deal following a member referendum.

Pending final approval from union federation FNV, the deal - which was agreed in principle by the FNV after lengthy negotiations with employer organisations and the government - aims to implement sweeping reforms to the Dutch pensions system.

The FNV federation, which represents 19 trade unions, is expected to cast its final vote on 12 September.

A third important constituent union, FNV Bouw, today announced that it cannot agree to the deal in its current form, but "as negotiations are ongoing even today, the union council prefers to say 'no, unless' rather than to reject the agreement outright", according to the union.

It added: "We urge the other unions to do the same."

Bondgenoten and Abvakabo, the two largest constituent unions of the FNV, are unhappy with the deal, as they believe the agreement provides insufficient guarantees to low wage earners and lets employers off the hook in times of financial trouble.

In the months preceding the 12 September deadline, they therefore decided to mobilise their members by referendum, advising members to vote against the agreement.

Turnout for the Abvakabo referendum was low. Just 13% of the union's members cast their vote. Of those, 88% rejected the deal.

The Bondgenoten referendum saw a turnout of 23%, of which 96% voted to nix the deal.

FNV Bondgenoten and Abvakabo FNV together represent some 800,000 workers. In all, only 141,280 voted against the agreement.

The FNV could technically still accept the deal, even if both Bondgenoten and Abvakabo vote against, but, according to Dutch public news service NOS, if FNV Bouw rejects the agreement, the naysayers within FNV have a majority of 54.2%.

In any case, said Abvakabo vice-chair Corrie van der Brenk on the Abvakabo website, "it would be very undesirable to accept an agreement that is opposed by the two largest unions in the country".

She has said that she expects various political parties to take the unions' objections seriously and to pressure the government and employers into making further concessions.