Government blocks early retirement for school teachers

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In May 1997, the Italian Government proposed emergency measures to modify the pensions system in view of the entry criteria for EU Economic and Monetary Union (EMU), causing particular problems in the schools sector.

Discussions on another reform of the pension system (the present system came into force in 1995) have led to much perplexity and alarm in the public sector, and in particular in primary and secondary schools. The Government is tackling these difficulties through a process of dialogue with the social partners.

A higher number of teachers than (generally) expected have asked to take early retirement this year, as they fear that they will in future be unable to take advantage of early retirement on a "seniority pension" (based on contributions, rather than age) as provided for by the present law. The centre-left Government led by Romano Prodi has thus considered it appropriate - in order to curb financial outlay exceeding the limits foreseen in the 1997 budget - to put a "retirement plan" into practice, limiting the number of early retirement applications that will be accepted in September 1997 to around half of the total. For those teachers whose application is not accepted, a priority list will be set up, based on the age of the applicants. It is calculated that this year schools staff will thus be able to take advantage of seniority pensions only from the age of 60-61 years, which is significantly higher than the minimum of 52 years set by the 1995 reform law.

The Government's decision, taken on 19 May 1997, was met with perplexity and disappointment by trade unions, both the teachers' organisations affiliated to the three most important union confederations Cgil, Cisl and Uil- though these were more willing to talk - and the autonomous union s (those not affiliated to the three confederations) - which have been more rigid. The two major points of dispute were: the vagueness of the government decree concerning the maintenance of acquired rights for those teachers obliged to put off retirement; and the duration of the "retirement plan".

On the first point, the Education Minister guaranteed to trade unions that acquired rights will be respected. As for the duration of the "blockade", the unions asked for it to cover only 1997, while the Government proposed a four-year plan. The eventual compromise, reached on 4 June and accepted by Cisl, Cgil and Uil, is for a two-year plan (covering 1997 and 1998). The retirement plan was approved by Parliament on 19 July. However, there is still considerable tension and fear that similar situations could occur in other sectors of public employment before the conclusion of the current negotiations between the Government and trade unions on the reform of the whole pensions system.

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