NETHERLANDS  - The representative body of Dutch harbour workers (SBPVH) said it has settled its financial dispute with the Optas Foundation concerning the ownership rights to a harbour pension plan.

The agreement means Optas Pensioenen NV - now part of insurer Aegon - will receive a one-off contribution worth €500m to improve the pension rights of 48,000 policyholders, SBPVH said in a statement.

The settlement has been approved by a large majority of the harbour employers and by over 22% of policyholders who had responded to a questionnaire issued by SBPVH, according to its chairman Ton Jansen.

The dispute over ownership rights to the pension plan’s asset arose after The Optas Foundation - which was a commercial life insurer and pension provider for the PVH port workers’ pension fund - was taken over by insurer Aegon in 2007 in a €1.5bn transaction.

The foundation - which intends to use the proceed of the sale for social and cultural purposes such as the subsidy of art - disputed a claim from harbour employers and employees suggesting the assets should be used to benefit the policyholders.

The SBPVH turned down an offer from the Optas Foundation in 2008 to pay €350m to improve the pension of port workers.

An earlier mediation effort by Elco Brinkman, former chairman of civil service scheme ABP, had already failed too.

But in a recent letter to its stakeholders, the SBPVH said it was facing a choice between accepting Optas’ new settlement proposal or with continuing “time-consuming and expensive” legal proceedings, after several failed attempts to win a higher payout.

The SBPVH stressed the assets won are the proceeds of the Optas sale and are additional to the accrued pension rights.

“Moreover, we have also gained the right to keep on negotiating with Aegon about the destination of the €831m of constricted assets (beklemd vermogen), meant as a general financial reserve, which also went to Aegon as part of the Optas deal,” added Jansen.

Aegon spokesman Alexander Kuipers confirmed his company will start discussions with the SBPVH about the implementation of the settlement with the Optas Foundation, but denied the constricted assets will also be subject of talks.

“Both social affairs minister Piet Hein Donner and the chairman of the corporate court have made clear that the constricted assets belong to Aegon,” he stated.

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