December 19, 2008

Poland has drastically cut the number of workers eligible for early retirement, AP reports.

Under current law, workers in some professions can retire and receive a state pension after only 15 years of employment.

While most women in Poland retire at 60 and men at 65, the current law allows exceptions for people in jobs deemed difficult or dangerous, such as coal mining, where people often retire in their 50s.  The new law removes the right to early retirement — a vestige of the communist era — from about 750,000 workers in this country of 38 million people. Those who will no longer be able to retire early include truck drivers, some railway workers, artists and journalists.

The vote Friday came as Poland feels the pain of the global financial crisis, and it was welcomed by Prime Minister Donald Tusk, who is trying to bring down state spending. Tusk's Civic Platform party argued it was unfair for most workers to be taxed to pay pensions for healthy younger people. The party also said Poland would not be able to afford to keep paying for so many early retirees as the country's population ages.

 The News.pl adds that "President Kaczynski vetoed the legislative reforms proposed by the ruling Civic Platform (PO) in a move that is not unfamiliar in the year-long cohabitation conflict between the President and Prime Minister. Under Polish law, parliament has the power to overturn a presidential veto with a three fifths majority." 

It quotes Tusk: "It turns out that sense has prevailed in Poland." He's right, I'm afraid.  While it's not at all unreasonable that coal miners and truck drivers should be able to retire at an earlier age than office workers (although not artists and journalists!) the rationale behind that could better be met by workers compensation; people who are healthy enough to work should while those incapacitated by dangerous work should be taken care of.

It's interesting that Poland, a country which lived under Communism for decades and freed itself thanks, in large part, to an incredibly powerful labor union, is among the first in Europe to take such significant measures to draw down the social welfare system.  France, most notably, has found it nearly impossible to do so; even modest cuts are met with massive protests.  But the demographics of the situation simply won't allow a huge retired population to spend twenty, thirty, or more years drawing benefits paid by an ever-shrinking pool of young workers. 

James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council.

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