Workers’ unions in the Netherlands have hit out at the government’s plan to push on with pension reform in the absence of an agreement between unions and employers.

The trade unions have claimed that the govnerment has ignored most of the issues that resulted in negotiations between the social partners collapsing in November.

However, employers have responded positively to the plan – announced by social affairs minister Wouter Koolmees over the weekend – and have urged the unions to return to the negotiating table.

Tuur Elzinga of the FNV union described the plan as “a slap in the face of workers and pensioners”.

He argued that Koolmees’ promise to reassess the current arrangements for increasing the state pension age was “insufficient”.

Arend van Wijngaarden, chair of CNV, the Netherlands’ second-largest union, said that the government was “thrown off the scent”, and argued that the introduction of individual pensions accrual would reduce the chance of Dutch savers achieving a decent pension.

Both Van Wijngaarden and Nic van Holstein, chair of the VCP union, contended that the government had failed to offer adequate compensation for older workers who would be affected by a transition from average to degressive pensions accrual.

The unions have announced industrial action, with the police unions planning to block the entrances of the Ministry for Social Affairs and the office of the employer organisations in The Hague on Monday.

Union representatives walked out of a meeting after 66 minutes earlier today, in a symbolic gesture referencing their preferred retirement age

Koolmees defends actions

Wouter Koolmees

Credit: Mark Prins

Wouter Koolmees, social affairs minister

Speaking on television programme Buitenhof, Koolmees described the response of the unions as “fierce and unjustified”, and denied he was on a war footing.

He argued that politicians had to get things moving towards pensions reform, but added that he also hoped that the negotiations would be resumed.

The Pensions Federation, which represents Dutch pension funds, said it wanted to discuss how the government’s plan for a new pensions contract related to the current contracts after the abolition of average accrual.

In its opinion, the sources of compensation suggested by Koolmees for a transition to degressive accrual required further investigation.

The organisation also called for additional analysis of the relationship between future mandatory life-cycle investments by pensions funds and collective risk-sharing as proposed by the government.

The Pensions Federation also underlined the importance of a structural agreement relating to the looming cuts to pension payouts and accrued rights – an issue that the minister only wanted to address as part of an overall approach.

The KNVG and NVOG, lobbying organisations for pensioners, highlighted the importance of preventing cuts and relaxing the rules regarding inflation compensation.

They cited earlier reports from the Social and Economic Council that the introduction of almost all measures announced by the government would take several years.

They also argued that the government’s approach lacked priorities and support and so had hit a dead end, leading to additional delays to pension reform.