Thursday, 16 May 2019

Disagreements in Ruling Coalition about Pension System Referendum?

ZAGREB, May 16, 2019 - Finance Minister Zdravko Marić said on Thursday that there were no disagreements between the ruling coalition parties HDZ and HNS over a referendum against the pension reform, while Science and Education Minister Blaženka Divjak said that the present pension system was untenable.

"I wouldn't say so. We've had such discussions before and eventually everyone raised their hand in favour. We'll talk about it," Marić told reporters ahead of a cabinet meeting when asked to comment on reported disagreements between the HDZ and the HNS over the pension system and unions' referendum initiative.

Asked if the government should prevent a referendum on returning the statutory retirement age from 67 to 65 by amending the Pension Insurance Act, Marić said that they would talk about it. "The pension system is not just a matter of a one or three-year budget, it is a system and should be looked at over 20, 30 or 50 years," the finance minister said.

Science and Education Minister Blaženka Divjak said that the present pension system was untenable, noting that privileged pensions should be awarded only in exceptional cases.

Asked if she thought that the present law should be changed to prevent the referendum, Divjak said that the existing mechanisms should be used and dialogue should be pursued to save the 50 million kuna (6.75 million euro) that would be spent on the referendum and see if the system could be improved. "I think that this option should definitely be supported," she added.

Asked if more than 600,000 signatures gathered for the referendum was a clear message to the government, Divjak said that it was a message both to this and to previous governments. "Either it was not made clear what problems could arise with the existing pensioner-employee ratio or the government's solutions are unacceptable to the majority," she said.

"The solution adopted by parliament was good, but is it the only possible one? Citizens have signalled with their signatures that a different solution should be sought," Divjak said.

More news about the pension system referendum can be found in the Politics section.

Monday, 13 May 2019

Initiative "Take Money from Political Parties" Starts Gathering Signatures for Referendum

ZAGREB, May 13, 2019 - The civil initiative "Take money from political parties" is starting to gather signatures as of midnight on Saturday for a referendum to end the financing of political parties from the state budget, its activists announced at a press conference in Zagreb's main square.

The initiative calls for amending the Constitution to ban the financing of political parties from the central, regional and local government budgets. It will be gathering signatures until May 26.

Signatures will be gathered at more than 500 locations across the country by over 4,000 activists, half of whom are members of the opposition Živi Zid party.

" Živi Zid is the only party to have joined this initiative so far," one of the organisers, Denis Martinić, said, calling on other parties to join them and "bring about true changes in society."

Also attending the press conference were Živi Zid's Ivan Vilibor Sinčić and Tihomir Lukanić.

"With this referendum we are doing away with the corrupt HDZ and SDP parties. We are ending a sad and dark period in Croatian modern history and starting to build a new system without parasitic parties, a system based on empathy rather than on corruption and materialism," said Lukanić, Živi Zid's secretary general and lead candidate for the European Parliament, calling on citizens to sign their petition.

"The money that the political parties receive from the state budget is taxpayers' money, the money of all Croatian citizens," Lukanić said. He called on citizens to consider whether they wanted their money to end up in the pockets of political parties that did not represent their interests.

Sinčić, the party's leader and candidate for the European Parliament, called for radical changes to the political and electoral system.

"Now is the time to say a clear 'no' to the parties around the HDZ and the SDP. You have no results to show for yourselves, so you must go," Sinčić said, stressing that the political system had to be more efficient, cheaper and more transparent.

More referendum news can be found in the Politics section.

Sunday, 12 May 2019

Prime Minister, Parties React to Referendum Petition Success

ZAGREB, May 12, 2019 - Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said on Sunday that he respected every referendum initiative and that parliament would decide on the union-led referendum initiative "67 is too much" after examining the signatures gathered for a referendum petition.

The initiative's organisers announced at a midnight press conference that they had gathered over 600,000 signatures for a referendum against the statutory retirement age being raised to 67.

"I respect every referendum initiative, including this one. Parliament will decide on this matter after the signatures have been presented," Plenković told reporters in Zagreb.

Asked if Parliament would ask the Constitutional Court to assess whether the referendum question was in line with the Constitution, the prime minister said that this would be decided by Parliament.

Branko Grčić of the opposition Social Democratic Party (SDP) on Sunday congratulated the union-led "67 is too much" initiative on gathering 600,000 signatures for a referendum on the pension system.

Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of an SDP convention in Zagreb, Grčić said this was a good initiative for future pensioners, especially for people for whom it would be difficult to work until 67 years of age for health reasons.

Asked if the referendum would be held, Grčić said that the unions' proposal was very consistent. "It is basically a substitute for the law that was already passed by parliament. I think that everything will be clear after confirmation by the referendum. I don't think the government will have any choice there."

He said that the government's reaction to the signature gathering campaign was arrogant because it used all means available to deter people from supporting the referendum initiative.

Responding to a reporter's remark that five years ago the SDP had supported a similar measure, Grčić recalled that their proposal was that the retirement age be raised as of 2038 and that it was prompted by efforts to speed up economic growth. "Unfortunately, the government that succeeded us went in a totally different direction. The circumstances today are completely different from those of three years ago," he said.

Ines Strenja of the opposition MOST party said on Sunday she was glad that the union-led referendum initiative "67 is too much" had gathered over 600,000 signatures for a referendum on the pension reform.

She said that this was a message to Prime Minister Andrej Plenković that the people wanted further consultations on the pension reform.

"MOST has supported this referendum initiative just as it did all other referendum initiatives because the people have the right to say what they want the country to look like," she said during a presentation of her party's platform for the forthcoming European Parliament elections in the northern Adriatic city of Rijeka.

Strenja said that the pension reform was not good. "There's much more than the retirement age of 67. Croats have a shorter life expectancy than EU citizens, so perhaps the retirement age should be even lower than 65. We want EU standards while forcing our people to be in an unequal position in relation to EU citizens," she said.

Speaking of the EP elections, Strenja said that if elected, MOST's MEPs would be advocating the interests of Croatian citizens rather than of different political groupings. "We want a just Croatia that will be an equal member of the EU and that will fight for its sovereign rights such as the right to an exclusive economic zone. Croatia can do so much more, especially with regard to EU funding," she said, adding that they would also insist on better healthcare for all, especially for people in rural areas and on the islands.

More referendum news can be found in the Politics section.

Sunday, 12 May 2019

Referendum Initiative Claims It Has Gathered over 600,000 Signatures

ZAGREB, May 12, 2019 - The unions-led referendum initiative "67 is too much" announced in Zagreb's main square at midnight on Saturday that they had gathered over 600,000 signatures for a referendum to prevent the statutory retirement age from being raised from 65 to 67.

Under the law, organisers of a referendum are required to gather the signatures of at least 373,568 voters, or 10 percent of the electorate, before formally filing a referendum petition.

The initiative's national coordinator Mirela Bojić told a press conference that the signatures would be submitted to parliament within two weeks, after the signature sheets were thoroughly checked.

The leader of the Federation of Autonomous Trade Unions of Croatia (SSSH), Mladen Novosel, said they expected the referendum to be held in early September.

More news about the possible referendum can be found in the Politics section.

Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Labour Minister Accuses Unions of Conspiring with Opposition

ZAGREB, May 8, 2019 - Labour Minister Marko Pavić said on Wednesday that he would not step down despite the unions' demand to that effect, accusing the unions of conspiring with the opposition ahead of European elections in order to weaken the government's influence.

The leaders of three trade union federations on Tuesday demanded Pavić's resignation, saying that the minister had deceived the public about the amount of taxpayers' money spent on a campaign against the unions' referendum initiative "67 is too much".

The three unions - SSSH, NHS and MHS - are collecting signatures until May 11 for their petition for a referendum against raising the statutory retirement age to 67.

"I will not resign, the unions are quite nervous but the government knows what it is doing, it is informing citizens responsibly," Pavić said in an interview with Croatian Radio.

He said that in the course of the day his ministry would forward to the Constitutional Court a report on the financing of videos on the comprehensive pension reform, adding that it was evident from Constitutional Court President Miroslav Šeparović's statements that it was legitimate for the government to conduct an informative campaign simultaneously with the union-led signature-collection drive so that it could warn citizens of the consequences of union proposals.

The minister added that there was no other way for the ministry to finance the informative campaign but with public money.

Pavić also accused the unions of having conspired with the opposition ahead of EU elections. "We have been saying that the statutory retirement age of 67 was not introduced by the current government but by the SDP government. That's why I'm surprised at the opposition's support for the union initiative. I understand the unions' nervousness as their having become a participant in EU elections. I believe that people understand that the union initiative is politically motivated... and that the unions are not credible. This is not about the pension reform, this is an attempt to weaken the government's influence ahead of EU elections," Pavić said.

More news about the referendum campaign can be found in the Politics section.

Tuesday, 7 May 2019

Constitutional Court Asks Ministry to Explain Financing of Pension Reform TV Ads

ZAGREB, May 7, 2019 - The Constitutional Court on Tuesday asked the Ministry of Labour and Pension System to explain the financing of an advertising campaign on the comprehensive pension reform, which the unions and opposition claim is directed against the "67 is too much" referendum initiative.

"The Constitutional Court has decided that it will request a detailed report from the Ministry of Labour and Pension System about the spending for the videos, how much in total is foreseen, how much has been spent until now, whether those funds are from the state budget and what their precise purpose is," President of the Constitutional Court Miroslav Šeparović told Hina.

He added that the explanation was requested "immediately and without delay," after which the court will decide whether it will take any steps.

"A grave violation of the rules of democratic procedure is required for the Constitutional Court to use its supervisory authority in this pre-referendum phase, a violation which in fact eliminates the possibility for citizens to express themselves at a referendum," he said.

The Constitutional Court has not been presented for now with the sort of evidence which would require it to react. We will continue to monitor the situation and, after the ministry submits its response, we will decide which steps to take, Šeparović explained.

MP Peđa Grbin of the opposition Social Democratic Party (SDP) on Friday said that he had written to the Constitutional Court because he believed that the government was using taxpayers' money to finance a campaign against an ongoing union campaign for a referendum against the statutory retirement age of 67.

Grbin asked that the court use its powers to supervise referendum activities and warn participants in those activities, in this case state institutions, that their conduct is not in line with the constitution and laws.

Grbin claimed that the government was using public money to finance its campaign against the union referendum campaign.

Minister of Labour and Pension System Marko Pavić on Monday said that the campaign on the comprehensive pension reform was not an anti-referendum campaign and reiterated that a referendum is a democratic right, however, the government is obliged to continually inform citizens of the reforms it is implementing.

More news about pension reform can be found in the Politics section.

Monday, 6 May 2019

Trade Unions Disappointed with Number of Referendum Signatures

ZAGREB, May 6, 2019 - The "67 is too much" referendum initiative on Monday expressed concern because according to data processed so far, the initiative has collected 247,835 signatures over the past nine days, yet it requires more than 373,000 signatures and has only five more days to collect them.

Unions have organised the campaign for a referendum against raising the statutory retirement age to 67 and in order for the referendum to be called the initiative is required to collect at least 373,568 signatures. On Monday it was lacking at least 125,733 signatures.

"We are concerned that we won't succeed," president of the Matica union federation, Vilim Ribić, told a press conference.

Three union federations – NHS, SSSH, and Matica (Association of Croatian Trade Unions) – launched the "67 is too much" campaign to call the referendum to bring back the full retirement age to 65 as it was prior to the pension reform. The initiative has until May 11 to collect the required number of signatures.

More news about referendums in Croatia can be found in the Politics section.

Thursday, 2 May 2019

Is Government Leading Campaign against Union Referendum Initiative?

ZAGREB, May 2, 2019 - The GONG nongovernmental election monitoring organisation on Thursday called on the government to inform the public of the cost of its advertising campaign against trade unions' initiative to collect signatures for a referendum petition against raising the state pension age.

The government is intimidating the general public with its estimates that the demands of the union campaign "67 is too much" will cost 45 billion kuna of budget money yet is using public money non-transparently in its counter-campaign, GONG says.

GONG welcomes the government's having imposed stricter transparency rules on all referendum campaigns, including the union campaign, but considers it problematic that the government has not made public the cost of its counter-campaign.

GONG insists that the issue of financing referendums should be regulated as part of a new law on referendums and recalls that Public Administration Minister Lovro Kuščević has set up a task force to draw up the new law, which has not held any meeting yet.

Labour and Pension System Minister Marko Pavić on Thursday dismissed accusations that his ministry's media campaign, which has coincided with an ongoing union campaign for a referendum against the statutory retirement age of 67, is directed against the referendum initiative, saying that the ministry campaign is part of continuous efforts to inform citizens.

"This is not an anti-referendum campaign; it is an ongoing campaign designed to inform citizens about the comprehensive pension reform. We did not use external agencies for the campaign, we paid 18,000 kuna plus VAT for the video and we will publish the cost of the campaign after it is completed," Pavić told a news conference.

As for a calculation showing that a possible success of the union referendum campaign would cost the budget 45 billion kuna, Pavić said the calculation had been made by a team of experts. Even though it may seem high, it is realistic given the large number of pensioners, he said.

Pavić went on to say that trade unions and opposition parties used events commemorating International Workers' Day on Wednesday to manipulate citizens. He also dismissed media claims that the rate of youth employment in Croatia had dropped and that the government's active employment policy measures were not yielding results.

In the first two years of its term, the government invested 4.5 billion kuna in employment measures, and from March 2016 to March 2019, 96,058 jobs were created, he said, adding that in 2018, 38,287 more jobs had been created than the year before.

"The youth employment rate for the 15-29 age group has grown by 2.6%. According to the Croatian Pension Insurance Institute, the number of employed young persons has grown from 261,000 to 267,500, and the rate of employed persons, depending on the statistics, has increased between 2.45% and 2.6%," said Pavić.

More news about the referendum campaign can be found in the Politics section.

Tuesday, 30 April 2019

Trade Unions and Employers Clash over Retirement Age Referendum

ZAGREB, April 30, 2019 - The "67 Is Too Much" referendum initiative on Tuesday said that the Croatian Employers Association's (HUP) claim that the union campaign for a referendum against raising the statutory retirement age to 67 will not change the problems in the pension system shows yet once again that HUP does not understand the problems in the pension system nor Croatia's reality.

"Referendums evidently cannot contribute to resolving problems in the pension system nor is it their purpose. As such it is absolutely out of place to express such a criticism of the union initiative. The aim of this referendum is something entirely different and that is self-defence from the egoism of political elites for the sake of protection of the people and their dignity in their senior years," said the initiative, consisting of three trade unions.

The initiative was responding to claims made yesterday by HUP that a possible union referendum on whether retirement age should be set at 67 will not help resolve the problems of the pension system.

Representatives of the referendum initiative underscore that HUP is hypocritical when it calls on unions to engage in a responsible dialogue and asks if "HUP is the organisation of those who advocate a retirement age of 67 yet at the same time won't employ anyone older than 55 or fires them?"

"Are we talking about the organisation of those that forced 79% of workers into early retirement (the other 20% left due to illness and just 1% went into retirement voluntarily)? As for responsibility, was it members of HUP that drastically reduced the cost of labour over the past 10 years and wholeheartedly supported governments that implemented such suicidal economics, which has led to the economic depression and the exodus of the population and drastically worsened working conditions? Now HUP, too, advocates higher wages but it wants taxpayers to help them achieve it," the initiative says in a press release.

The unions consider it to be irresponsible to say that as few as 20 percent of pensioners earned their pensions based on the required number of years of service or old age without mentioning the policies that caused it.

The initiative notes that HUP is not calling on the government to implement an active economic policy or ensure higher growth rates, higher employment and higher wages, or prepare for the fourth industrial revolution but is only calling for encouraging payments into the 2nd pension pillar.

"Since the 2nd pillar is a source of profit for HUP's cronies and at the same time a source of the budget deficit and public debt, we expect HUP to continue supporting the government in its fight against the budget deficit and public debt by calling for the restriction of workers' rights," the referendum initiative said.

HUP on Monday said that the main problem of the pension system is the fact that as few as 20 percent of pensioners earned their pensions based on the required number of years of service or old age, noting that the average duration of working life in Croatia is slightly over 30 years and urging the unions and politicians to discuss the pension reform responsibly, without populist rhetoric.

More news about the referendum can be found in the Politics section.

Monday, 29 April 2019

Labour Minister Blames Opposition for Retirement Age Increase

ZAGREB, April 29, 2019 - Labour and Pension System Minister said on Sunday that launching a petition for a referendum against the statutory pension age of 67 is a democratic right supported by the government, however, this statutory retirement age has been existing in Croatia for five and a half years and was introduced by the government led by the Social Democratic Party (SDP).

"Then (when it was introduced) there were no protests or referendums, and earlier today, we could see the SDP leader Davor Bernardić sign this referendum petition, although he had voted for raising the pension age to 67," the minister told the RTL commercial broadcaster.

"He (Bernardić) recently apologised for that policy (of his party). I believe that it may happen that he will apologise for the entire term of the Milanovic government," said Pavić, referring to the SDP government led by the then SDP leader Zoran Milanović whom Bernardić succeeded at the SDP helm.

"The policy of this government is to invest maximum effort to make pensions higher. We have raised them by 7.45%, and as of 1 July, the lowest pension allowances are going up by 3.13%, we have reinforced the second pillar and settled many issues and preserved the stability of the public finances," the minister said.

Those who have been longer employed have the average pension of 4,500 kuna and we have set the target to enable people to stay longer on the labour market, and they can go into retirement at the age of 60 if they have 41 years of service, Pavić said.

He recalled that in Croatia the average length of the years of service before retirement is 30 years and 2 months as against the average of 35 years in Europe and 37 years in Germany.

Pavić said that credit rating agencies and the European Commission have praised the government's pension reform as good, and reiterated that a success of the unions' referendum against the reform would mean lower pensions and more borrowing.

The Moody's credit rating agency, which on Friday changed Croatia's outlook positive and affirmed its ratings at Ba2, says that "in the medium-term, the pension reform enacted in late 2018 will contribute to the fiscal sustainability of the system while ensuring better pension adequacy."

"The acceleration in the planned increase in the statutory retirement age to 67, coupled with the equalization of retirement age for men and women, will support the decrease in public pension expenditure expected by the European Commission's 2018 Ageing report (-3.8% of GDP in 2070 compared to 2016). The supplement granted to multi-pillar pensioners will help to improve the low pension adequacy," Moody's says.

Three union federations – NHS, SSSH and MHS – early on Saturday morning started collecting signatures for a referendum on changes to the Pension Insurance Act. The union federations want the government to restore the retirement age to 65, to set the age for early retirement at 60, and to reduce penalties for early retirement from 0.3% to 0.2% per month of early retirement, as well as to extend the transitional period for equalising the statutory retirement age for women and men.

More news about the pension system can be found in the Business section.

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