Germany’s Ministry for Labour and Social Affairs (BMAS) has taken many in the industry by surprise after taking up a proposal by the metal union to broaden the reach of occupational pensions.
Just weeks after IG Metall first recommended the creation of industry-wide pension funds, similar to the Dutch model, the BMAS endorsed the proposal in a paper that has yet to be made public.
IG Metall was the union behind MetallRente, one of the more recent industry-wide schemes launched in Germany.
The banking industry also offers industry-wide provision through the €24bn BVV, while Soka Bau offers pensions and other benefits to those in the building industry.
Additionally, countries including the Netherlands and Denmark provide collective schemes.
PFZW, the Dutch healthcare sector fund, is among Europe’s largest schemes, with more than €150bn in assets.
Denmark, meanwhile, has a handful of pension providers targeting the healthcare, white and blue-collar industry, providing them with a scale that would otherwise be almost impossible to achieve.
Despite the German government’s support for IG Metall’s plan, the industry’s response has been lukewarm at best.
Speaking at the German pension association’s (aba) annual conference in Cologne, Peter Hadasch, a board member at Nestlé Germany, rejected the idea outright.
“We do not need yet another pensions vehicle,” he said.
“Germany already has enough in the occupational pension segment.”
According to the BMAS’s proposal, different industries would set up a Pensionskasse or a Pensionsfonds, into which each employer – either voluntarily or through compulsion – could make contributions on behalf of employees.
Additionally, new protection funds, or ‘safety’ funds, should be created to ensure the security of assets in the new pension funds, even in case of insolvency.
But Hadasch argued that this would mean employers could no longer use individual pension plans to attract prospective employees, or retain current ones.
He also argued that the German way of “insuring all the risks in advance” was like “pulling all teeth to prevent tooth decay”.
“We have to define the risks employers have to take in a funded pension system and not release them from this responsibility because this would sever the tie to the employee – and this would be the end of occupational pensions,” he said.
Hadasch also warned that the new proposed system had been the brainchild of unions and the government – “two parties that fear nothing more than the capital markets”.
“If you hedge away all risks,” he added, “it will be more expensive than taking a bit of risk.”
Michael Hessling, a board member at Allianz, also criticised the BMAS’s proposal.
He said he feared Germany’s “major pensions vehicle” – direct insurance contracts – would be left out in a new system, which he said would “increase complexity” and “damage the existing system”.
“It would create uncertainty, and employers would stop setting up pension plans while waiting for the new system,” he said.
But Peter Görgen, head of BMAS’s supplementary pension department, said it would be good to “plant new seeds” with the proposed vehicles.
At the conference, aba chairman Heribert Karch read out a previous statement by the IG Metall union, which kicked off the debate in the first place but has now rejected the BMAS proposal.
Karch noted that the union criticises the fact it would be mandatory to have a pension scheme that would fall under the IORP II regime, and that it does not want employers to be able to “buy themselves out” of their funding responsibilities.
As for the aba itself, Karch said the association would not take any position on the matter, but merely “help think matters through”.
Andrea Nahles, federal minister for Labour and Social Affairs, has previously said provisions within collective labour agreements should pave the way for greater occupational coverage – with a clause now included in the country’s new minimum wage law, a campaign promise of Nahles’s Social Democratic Party.
A BMAS study on the expansion of occupational coverage earlier this year also attempted to highlight the main hurdles preventing small and medium-sized enterprises from offering provision.