NETHERLANDS - Trade unions in the Netherlands have responded furiously to proposals by oil giant Shell to increase the pension age for its 11,000 Dutch workers from 60 to 65.

FNV Bondgenoten, one of Holland’s biggest unions, called on all Shell workers to protest the plans. Evert Jan van de Mheen of the CNV Bedrijvenbond union said: “We have asked Shell to pull the plans, and to work with us and the workers’ council to reach a new agreement based on the old plan. If Shell does not listen, we will consult our members and could eventually go on strike.”

Shell is the first major company in the Netherlands to ditch its pre-pension following the pensions deal reached by the country’s social partners and the government a month ago. Under the proposals, pre-pension is to be replaced by a new voluntary lifestyle savings scheme.

In a statement, FNV Bondgenoten said Shell had “used” the pensions deal to push through its own cost cutting agenda.

Van de Mheen of the CNV union said he feared Shell’s move could open the floodgates for other companies to get rid of their pre-pension. “Shell is a very large company. If they manage to push this through, that could set an example.”

Workers at Shell have traditionally always had a very generous pension plan. Van de Mheen said the issue was “an extremely sensitive one” for employees. He added there had been some worker unrest at the companies’ refineries in Pernis and Moerdijk after hearing the plans.

Under the proposals, which took Shell two years to prepare and are to be implemented in 2006, employees of Shell Netherlands no longer automatically retire at the age of 60. Instead, employees are allowed to retire any time between 55 and 65.

Employees born before 1950 fall under a transitional agreement, which allows them to retire at 60 with a full pension. But younger employees are going to have to work longer to be able to retire with a similar pension plan at the same age.

Elsewhere, Shell said it was pushing back the dates of its shareholder meetings amid ongoing uncertainty about its estimates of oil reserves. The Anglo-Dutch oil giant said meetings due in April will now take place on 28 June.

Shell earlier said it had been forced to cut 4.9 billion dollars (3.7 billion euros) from its retained earnings for 2004 as a result of adopting the new International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS).

The company’s net assets will also drop by 4.7 billion dollars to 71.5 billion due to pension changes after adopting the new standards. Shell insisted its underlying financial position remained untouched by the moves.