BELGIUM - Minister for Pensions Bruno Tobback (pictured) has declared 2006 ‘the year of women and their pensions,' and reforms tailored to this effect were approved last week.
The measures were contained within the controversial Generation Pact, a package of social security and pension reforms approved by the Belgian Parliament on 15 December.
The first, due for implementation on 1 October 2006, would address the state pension requirement that a recipient must first have worked full-time for 30 years. Women who have left work to have children, or who have worked part time as a result, find themselves short of the requisite working years as they approach the standard retirement age.
A spokesman for the minister explained: “When you work part time, you have to work three years to have one year that counts for your pension. That is why when a woman has worked 25 years full-time and five years part-time, she doesn’t have enough career years to have the minimum pension. That is what we want to change.”
With the reform, that woman would be able to receive the minimum pension, but the theoretical five years of part-time work would be calculated on a pro-rata basis.
Another reform, set for implementation on 1 January 2007, would see widowers (women were cited as foremost amongst this group) able to combine a survivor’s pension with an unemployment allocation.
The spokesman said: “Before the Generation Pact, when they became unemployed, they couldn’t combine an unemployment allocation with that pension, now they can.
“Also, because of that (survivor’s) pension, if your husband has died you can go and work, but there is a limit put on (how much you can earn). We saw a lot of women were unable to work full-time because they were above the limit and would otherwise lose the allocation.
“Now we have made it more attractive to work with a different calculation. The more you work (earn), you lose bits of your allocation.”
Existing pension legislation in Belgium is based on an male-centric model of the workforce, an issue which the government plans to target.
“When they built this legislation only men worked, and they worked full time. Since then there have not been reforms that made the system more feminine,” said the spokesman.
“We need more research to see what impact these measures will have and which groups of women we will reach. It is very hard to change the system when we don’t have good statistics on how the career of a woman is built.
“We have to adapt the system to women who have worked but not full-time, and we also have to inform women more about the consequences of the choices they take for their pension funds.”
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