OPZZ promotes changes to pensions system

In early 2010, the All Poland Alliance of Trade Unions (OPZZ) and daily newspaper Superexpress launched a joint campaign to make the national pensions system fairer. They called for any person insured under the system to have the right to retire and collect a pension based solely on the number of years worked, regardless of their age. More than 250,000 Poles backed the initiative, which was subsequently submitted to the parliament as draft legislation.

Background

Calls for reforms to the pensions system began in 2009 when women born in 1949 retired. They were the first pensioners insured in the two-tier system composed of the Social Security Fund (Fundusz Ubezpieczeń Społecznych, FUS), which covers state pensions, and the Open Pensions Fund (Otwarte Fundusze Emerytalne, OFE), which covers capital pensions. The benefits paid to the women were unsatisfactory. The national campaign resulted in the government initiative to amend the Act on retirement pensions and other benefits from the Social Insurance Fund. The amendment would mean that those born between 1949 and 1968, who are bound to the two-tier system, would be allowed to exit the OFE and have all of their contributions collected by the FUS. The bill has been warmly received by the trade unions.

Early retirement is another issue in the debate on the pensions system. Due to the changes introduced in the pensions legislation in 2009, the category of people entitled to so-called ‘bridge pensions’ narrowed. These pensions are available to those people who, for example, have worked in dangerous jobs and have had to retire early but do not meet the general eligibility criteria for pensions because they are too young.

In addition, the idea of raising the general retirement age has caused public anger, which was exploited in the 2010 presidential campaign.

There is also unrest over the pensions system for agricultural workers, the Agricultural Social Security Institution (KRUS), which is separate from the FUS. KRUS is mainly financed by the national budget and this has long been a source of controversy.

OPZZ steps forward with initiative

In early 2010, the All Poland Alliance of Trade Unions (OPZZ) and the daily newspaper Superexpress launched a joint campaign to encourage the government to amend the pensions act. The main aim was to grant the right to any person insured under the system to retire and collect a pension based solely on the number of years worked, regardless of age. This would mean that women could retire after 35 years of work, and men after 40 years. They would collect a fixed monthly pension of €363 (PLN 1,500 as at 29 June 2010). Anyone wanting to continue working and increase their future benefits would be allowed to do so. The initiative attracted huge public support. By late May 2010, some 270,000 citizens had signed a petition, which was delivered to the parliament, in the hope that it would be proceeded upon as draft legislation.

Reactions of other social partners

Trade unions, such as the Independent and Self-Governing Trade Union Solidarity (NSZZ Solidarność), have been sympathetic to the initiative, with NSZZ Solidarność declaring its willingness to debate the future of the pensions system.

The Confederation of Polish Employers (KPP) has criticised the proposed changes, calling them ‘unacceptable’.

Commentary

The OPZZ’s initiative is unlikely to become law, despite its massive public support. However it is an indicator of how important the issue has become. There are a number of unresolved structural issues, including public dislike of the idea of raising the retirement age (PL0708019I); the existence of a separate pensions systems for agriculture; the ‘capital pensions’ arrangement; and the socio-demographic imbalance which is becoming a real threat to the pensions system.

Jan Czarzasty, Institute of Public Affairs (ISP)

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