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16 May 2019

Croatia: trade unions call for a referendum in a ‘67 is too much’ campaign

Trade unions in Croatia have started a referendum campaign to restore the statutory retirement age to 65 years. According to the unions the country’s workforce has a shorter life expectancy than most EU citizens and the working conditions are harder. The government strongly opposes the initiative.

In an effort to bring back the full retirement age to 65 years of age, the trade unions have called on citizens to support their ‘67 is too much’ campaign. The aim of the campaign is to call for a referendum which would propose restoring the pension age to the level it was prior to the reform. The signature collection campaign runs from 27 April to 11 May 2019. The issue was discussed during a conference organised by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation. Participants exchanged experiences in other European countries, such as Austria that has retained 65 as the retirement age and Belgium that has raised it to 67 years.

The pension reform went into force on 1 January 2019 and has raised the retirement age to 67 as of 2033, penalising early retirement by 0.3% per month, i.e. by 18% for five years, and enabling all pensioners to work four hours a week while keeping their pensions. The pension reform went through long legislative proceedings that lead to certain changes. For instance, the planned penalisation for early old-age pension was cut from 0.34 to 0.3% monthly. Moreover, parliament also lowered the full retirement age by six months for mothers and women who adopt for every child, which will increase their pensions by about 2%.

The three trade union federations that are organising the referendum petition want to restore the statutory retirement age to 65 years without penalisation. Under the current law, anyone who is younger than 53 will have to work until the age of 67 unless they have a working life of 41 years. The unions have no objections against a provision in the Labour Act that would allow anyone who wishes to work beyond the age of 65 to do so. Their main argument is that the reform does not take into account that Croatian workers have a shorter life expectancy than the EU average, citizens are sicker, working conditions are harder and technology is at a lower level.

The government has reacted in a very negative way and called the trade union initiative ‘an attempt to score cheap political points for the forthcoming European Parliament election’. The labour minister said that it was an orchestrated attempt by the opposition and trade unions to misinform the public and destabilise the pension system. In order to reinforce the sustainability of the pension system, the equalisation of old-age retirement for women and men has to step up by four months per year until 1 January 2033, when both will be eligible for old-age pension with 67 years of age and at least 15 years of service for retirement.

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