GERMANY – The German ministry for health and social security says occupational pensions are undergoing a revival.

A study by the ministry reveals around 10 million workers to now have access to an occupational pension scheme. The ministry’s secretary, Franz Thoennes, said the study showed “that the pensions reform of 2001 had laid the foundation for a nationwide expansion of the occupational pension system”.

According to the study, at the end of March this year, 42% of all employees in the private sector had access to an occupational pension scheme, compared to just 29% in April 2001. Particularly this year, the study shows a marked increase in membership of company pension schemes among women and in new German states.

Industry-wide, the hotel and restaurant sector has seen a sharp increase in provision of occupational schemes from 13% to 22%, in manufacturing 39% to 54%, and foods and luxury goods sector from 28% to 46%.

At the end of March 2003, 290,000 employees were subscribers to a ‘Pensionsfond’ and 1.7 million members of a ‘Pensionskasse’.

The ministry is pointing to the increase in take-up as a ‘revival’, but other market participants are not convinced enough is being done to encourage German workers to take up a supplementary pension.

German workers have long relied on the generous state pay-as-you-go system, to the detriment of private pensions. The third-pillar Riester pensions attracted far fewer takers than anticipated, and while, the second pillar is growing, critics still feel companies are not receiving enough encouragement to offer pension cover. The complexity of the two pillars is the most common complaint, and labour minister Ulla Schmidt has admitted that the issue will be looked into.