HL Brussels, January 2020
Minutes of the ETUC Conference: “ETUC SociALL”
(Zagreb, Croatia, 23 and 24 September 2019)
Present for FERPA: Agostino Siciliano, General Secretary, and Henri Lourdelle, Special
This Conference was part of ETUC’s “ETUC SociALL project: A rights-based trade union
approach for an inclusive, effective and adequate pension for all”. It is based on the
Commission Recommendation on “Access to Social Protection for All”, as recalled by Liina
Carr, ETUC Confederal Secretary, in her introductory remarks. She pointed out that 40% of
Europe’s working population (not only employees, but self-employed workers, those who
work on platforms, etc.) do not have adequate social protection. Admittedly, this
“Recommendation” is a “soft law”, so it is not a directive, but it indicates the direction that
the Member States can take when implementing the European Pillar of Social Rights and, in
particular, how to ensure that everyone has the right to live with dignity during retirement and
enjoy good social protection.
After the usual words of welcome from the three Croatian trade unions (MATICA, NHS
and UATUC), they explained how, through a wide-scale campaign of petitions signed
throughout the country (“67 is too much”), they succeeded in forcing the Croatian
Government to backtrack on its plans to raise the retirement age to 67 years. This success was
also due to the fact that the three Croatian trade unions succeeded in working together.
Marina Monaco, ETUC advisor, then gave a quick overview of the situation. What is the
situation regarding “bottom-up convergence” in the EU? Inequality is growing everywhere in
Europe. What about the increase in poverty among the elderly and the increase in inequality
among pensioners? Should 67 be the appropriate retirement age across Europe?
Igor Guardiancich, from the Ecole Saint Anne d’Etudes Avancées, then recalled the
European challenges regarding pension adequacy, focusing on the reference frameworks and
trends in recent pension system reforms.
The majority of the most recent reforms have been carried out with austerity in mind. Under
the influence of the World Bank, privatisation and multi-pillar policies have been developed
to reduce public spending on pensions. This has only increased risk and precariousness.
Similarly, another strong trend is to link the amount of the pension with the age of retirement.
Indeed, some Member States, such as Lithuania, have reduced contributions to statutory
Three challenges must be faced:
– The expected reduction in public pensions (-1.1% in Bulgaria or 3.5% in Greece)
– Supplementary pensions rarely have the ability to offset the decline in public pensions
– The low formal and effective coverage for new forms of contracts
Andrej Zorko (ZSSS, Slovenia): a “winning referendum” was also organised in Slovenia
against a move to a requirement for 43 years of contributions and an increase in the
retirement age to 67 years. A bonus scheme has been introduced for those who work for
longer, which is more effective than introducing a “penalty”. It is not only demographic
changes that need to be taken into account, but also changes relating to digitalisation.
The goal is not to gain additional years of life, but years of good health!
Rosana Ruscito of the ETUC Women’s Committee emphasised the correlation between the
gender pay gap and the pension gap. Elderly women are at great risk of poverty. The factors
preventing women from obtaining a full pension are low wages, career interruptions
(maternity, care of children and/or elderly parents, etc.) and lack of social assistance. This
care needs to be valued financially.
Hristina Mitreva (CITUB, Bulgaria) explained that her trade union was proposing concrete
measures regarding the financial viability of the pension system, including atypical
employment and increasing the annual pension weighting. With regard to the second pillar,
CITUB considers that each person should be able to choose the option that he or she
prefers/finds the most favourable.
The ultimate objective is to prevent people from being demotivated to join the labour market.
Thomas Dayan (from FIM – the International Federation of Musicians) pointed out that
musicians are a particular category of workers: atypical forms of employment are common
(short-term contracts, part-time work, etc.). It is a sector where there are poor negotiating
conditions and a low rate of unionisation. In some countries, competition rules are strictly
applied and it is particularly difficult to find work when you get older.
David Mum (member of the board of directors of GPA-DJP – Austria). In Austria, there was
strong mobilisation in 2003 to avoid the transition to the three-pillar system. The pension gap
between men and women is significant (47%), as women work part-time. Regarding older
workers, the idea is to put in place a job guarantee in the public sector
Tea Jarc (ETUC Youth Committee). What is the situation with young people in the labour
market? They are experiencing high unemployment, which means they face problems putting
money aside for their contributions even if they are participating in the labour market. For
them, moreover, retirement is a very distant prospect. They are even doubtful that they will
ever have one! However, the participation of young people in the labour market is important
for the financial equilibrium of pension schemes. So too is involving young people in trade
During the debate that followed these contributions, several points were highlighted:
– We need to be more conscious of indicators such as economic dependence.
– It is important for people of all ages to participate in the labour market.
– The job guarantee and its relationship with young people entering the labour market.
– Young people who are exposed to inappropriate work practices.
– The quality of pension systems shows how effective the systems themselves are.
Next, Agostino Siciliano (General Secretary, FERPA) was invited to give his conclusions
about the day.
First of all, he thanked the participants for the excellent day that he had spent with the
participants. Then, he underscored the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights
and on the need for solidarity between the different generations, as many are opposed to it.
He also mentioned FERPA’s participation in social dialogue in negotiating the agreement on
“active ageing and intergenerational solidarity”, as well as the Memorandum of
Understanding with the Youth Committee. When we talk about dignified pensions, this
means creating jobs, especially jobs for young people.
The main themes of the day can all be linked to the functioning of the system; it is necessary
for the systems to work well, thereby making pensions viable. Supports need to be developed
for caring for children and dependent elderly people so that women can work and have decent
pensions. Pensioners must be involved in important decisions within ETUC. It is not
acceptable for 100 million pensioners to be deprived of the right to make decisions.
We need more people working with dignity in order to have retirees living with dignity.
The first part of the morning on the second day was devoted to consideration of “Adequate
and effective social protection within the economic and financial outlook: challenges and
proposals”, with a contribution by Michele Raitano (Professor, La Sapienza University). He
firstly pondered how to deal with ageing populations. Raising the retirement age is not the
right solution, the productive capacity of the population is. Yes, people live longer, but not in
the same way. This rule should not be uniform for everyone, as it creates inequalities among
retirees whose life expectancy differs depending on the different socio-professional
categories. Changes in the labour market must be taken into account and there needs to be a
move away from the old clichés. In this way, we have to ask whether automation might offer
innovative possibilities for financing pension systems. Is it possible to envisage a
harmonisation of pension systems? No, because pension systems involve a redistribution of
financial resources. However, they are not the same everywhere, because they depend on two
criteria: the ageing of the population and the resources available to each country.
There are therefore no simple solutions or appropriate clichés for assessing the best pension
schemes to adopt when inequality increases.
In the debate that followed this contribution, two considerations emerged:
– Gender issues in the labour market are reflected in the pension system.
– Further harmonisation of EU tax requirements and/or the introduction of a pension
tool is needed to ensure greater harmonisation and solidarity.
The next topic that was discussed concerned “Pension plans and funding frameworks:
shaping equity, efficiency, adequacy and transparency”.
The first speaker was Costin Dumitru (President, BNS) who gave an overview of the latest
pension reforms in Romania, with a particular focus on the fact that after 11 years of
contributions in private schemes, you only receive…100 euros! And if we continue to reduce
contributions, in 15 years we will no longer receive anything at all. Too many employees are
on the minimum wage, which leads to a high proportion of minimum contributions. There is
a chronic deficit in the labour market, which makes the system unviable.
Next up was Guglielmo Loy (Chairman, INPS Supervisory Committee). He recalled that
economic and social systems are facing profound changes that must be “controlled”. The
challenge today is to understand what will happen in the future and whether adequate
pensions will be granted. One way to do this, he said, is through “flexibility”, which must
take into account the peculiarities of the system and ensure taxpayer autonomy.
The floor was then given to Henk van der Velden (FNV). First of all, he pointed out that the
Dutch labour market was undergoing major changes that were putting the system under
pressure. He then explained that the Dutch pension system comprises two pillars: the public
pension and the second pillar, which covers 90% of employees. Together, they provide
pensions of 70% to 80% of working salaries. He emphasised that the problem was that the
system only works if the proportion of pensioners is not too high; in other words, if there are
enough jobs for the employees. He also highlighted the increase in self-employment.
Lena Orpana (TCO, Sweden). The Swedish government has extended working life from 61
to 65 years. It has also linked retirement to life expectancy. She indicated that current
problems being encountered are an increase in the proportion of atypical contracts and
insecure work. She concluded by stressing that, while longer working lives are necessary,
good working conditions and better action in terms of vocational training are also needed.
Didier Hotte (Union confédérale des retraités F.O.). He presented the French government’s
plan to reform the system, introducing a single system instead of the current 42. The
Government is following a financial and fiscal economic rationale, to the detriment of the
well-being of workers and existing and future retirees. The value of the point that will be
used to calculate the amount of pensions will be set by the Government in accordance with
the budget. It is necessary to take into account not only economic factors, but also access to
care and the health and moral situation of pensioners and the elderly. There needs to be more
justice, but also more funding, while there is currently €80 billion in tax evasion every year.
In the debate that followed these different contributions, two topics emerged:
– The need for increased protection of platform workers and the difficulties of
contacting the formal employer
– In second pillar pensions: participation of employers in negotiations to achieve this.
The next topic discussed was “Implementation of the Recommendation on Access to Social
Protection for Workers and the Self-Employed” with a round table bringing together
European employers, the Commission and ETUC.
The floor was first given to Peter Lelie (Vice-Chair, the Council’s Social Protection
Committee). He first pointed out that the involvement of the Social Protection Committee in
the Recommendation began before it was launched by the European Commission. It will
continue in the future on implementation methods, with a mutual learning programme and as
part of the European Semester. Statistical analyses need to be deepened in order to
understand the problems of social protection better and, in particular, to determine who is not
covered. As regards the European Semester, the question is whether the Member States are
taking care of implementing the provisions concerning social protection. The
recommendation is an important instrument for carrying out in-depth work.
Next up was Mario Van Mierlo (BusinessEurope). He believes that social protection should
be voluntary. It is important that the Member States have the freedom to see how to
implement such social protection. It is also important to know how to protect working people.
Of course, all types of workers must have access to basic protection, but we must be
conscious of the risk of endangering the sustainability of the system. Those who choose to
work for themselves must also choose how to protect themselves. There is a need to avoid
poverty in Europe. Because, if the environment is poor, there will be no investment.
To which the moderator of this round table, Josef Wöss (AK Wien) replied that it is not only
necessary to prevent poverty, but also to ensure an adequate level of income.
Valeria Ronzitti (CEEP) noted that we are in a climate of growing challenges, including
digitalisation, the platform economy and self-employed workers. She acknowledged that the
presence of instruments, including the Recommendation, is important to influence the
process. It is a kind of umbrella that covers everything, but it is difficult to have tax changes
in all countries. Her organisation was ready to support the European Pillar of Social Rights,
now that it has been adopted, which is another important tool. She concluded by stressing the
importance of investing in lifelong training.
Marco Cilento (ETUC) ended the round table by speaking on the European Semester. He
first pointed out that the social partners did not work well together during the Semester. It
must not be forgotten that they represent interests – which can be mediated – and not values.
The Semester can change the national situation, but it is biased and only meets certain
requirements, such as stability. In the EU: wages are not rising and public investment is not
the driver of private investment. The Recommendation needs fiscal instruments.
In the ensuing debate, the contributions highlighted that:
– Attention must be paid to the Recommendation and how it will treat self-employed
workers and the bogus self-employed.
– There is a need for an appropriate income reporting system for self-employed
– Better statistics are also needed to have an improved understanding of the new
developments in the labour market.
The final topic addressed at this conference was “Designing and financing social protection
for all at European level”.
Luca Visentini (General Secretary, ETUC) spoke first. The dismantling of social protection
to overcome the crisis has led to an increase in inequality. For these reasons, the
Recommendation is welcome. However, there are many problems, such as the need to
increase the level of employment and wages, and to ensure that everyone pays into the system
of social contributions, regardless of their position in the labour market. Equality and stability
must be the main priority for decent pensions. The period of austerity is over, but it has not
solved the problems. Inequality has therefore worsened. That is why it was necessary to have
both the Recommendation and the Proclamation of the European Pillar of Social Rights.
However, access to protection for non-employees is not properly resolved in the
Recommendation. If wages are low, contributions are low and so are pensions. Tax evasion
must be combated, and raising the retirement age is not a solution. We must work to ensure
that justice is accessible to all, and if the problem of justice is resolved, pension systems will
be viable for everyone.
The incoming Commission has announced important reforms in this vein.
He was followed by Ana Carla Pereira (Head of Unit C2- Modernisation of Social
Protection Systems, DG EMPL). The debate focused on outcomes, including how resources
are created and used. Since 2005, expenditure on social protection has increased, but without
convergence: countries with a tradition of high spending have increased it, while there have
been no changes in other countries. There has been a decrease in the share of contributions,
which means that there is a need to identify new sources of funding.
Per Eckefeldt (Head of Sector Age-Related Public Expenditure, DG ECFIN), then spoke by
highlighting the problems linked to globalisation, climate change, an ageing population, the
significant fall in the labour force… all of which lead to many risks and insecurities for the
future. However, the current decline in unemployment and the economic growth that is
expected to accelerate in the coming decades indicate that change is underway; the only
question is its scale. Those who branch away from traditional work patterns need to be able to
enrol. A coherent and targeted approach is needed to achieve sustainable reforms.
Dr Jaakko Kiander (Finnish Presidency) said that the Finnish Presidency had ambitious
priorities in terms of inclusive growth and support for the European Pillar of Social Rights.
He recalled that, in the past, EU economic policy and austerity did not support social
protection. It was necessary to take into account an ageing population, the decline in fertility
and the precarious situation for young people, which constitute a changing picture requiring a
Ana Milićević Pezelj (UATUC), meanwhile, said that the priorities of the Croatian EU
Presidency (first half of 2020) are not yet clear, just three months on from its start. She
regretted that the unions were not sufficiently involved by the government. It takes insight to
achieve bottom-up convergence. In fact, governments consider social priorities as
“expenditure”, whereas they should be considered investments
The implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights and the Recommendation on
Access to Social Protection are steps forward.
Liina Carr (ETUC Confederal Secretary), after thanking the speakers and participants for
their active and enriching participation, brought the Conference to a close while emphasising
– The need for fiscal space to invest in people, create new jobs and increase security.
– The importance of tailor-made systems for vulnerable groups.
– The ultimate goal: to enable pensioners to live in dignity.