Poland's lawmakers approve retirement age hike

Poland's lawmakers on Friday approved a controversial government plan to raise the retirement age to 67 for most Poles, a key part in efforts to cut state debt, maintain robust growth and keep up investor confidence in this emerging economy.

Following a heated debate that included the opposition calling the government "thieves", the lower chamber of Parliament voted by a margin of 268 to 185 with 2 abstentions to approve changes sought by the pro-business government of Prime Minister Donald Tusk. Until now, women were allowed to retire at age 60 and men at 65.

Tusk's government argues that delayed retirement will help Poles build up larger pensions and reduce state spending. It says that in the decades to come, the aging society will not be able to maintain its remarkable economic growth of recent years and also support the growing number of retirees. Already the state budget is burdened by the need to funnel funds into the state-run pension system.

Trade unions and opposition lawmakers warn they will seek to overturn the new law, saying it excessively burdens old people by forcing them to work at a time in their lives when they have less strength, and driving young Poles to seek work abroad by making fewer positions available for them.

Mariusz Blaszczak, a lawmaker of Law and Justice, a conservative party that favors a strong social safety net, said his party would throw the new law to the "trash bin" if it wins power.

"We cannot allow a situation in which sick people toil for a minimum dole and young people are pushed out abroad."

Leszek Miller of the Democratic Left Alliance, also criticized the law, saying that "financial market benefits" were the only reason for it.

Solidarity, a leading trade union, has been staging days of noisy protest outside parliament.

The union argues that the government has not presented any convincing calculations to show that pensions would indeed rise in a significant way. Instead, they say, efforts should be taken to mend a job market with a 13 percent jobless rate and poor job security for people over the age of 50.

Under the new law, which especially affects women, partial retirement would be available to women at 62 and men at 65, on condition they had been employed for 35 and 40 years respectively, but it would permanently decrease the benefits they would receive after 67.

The armed forces and some other services enjoyed even more lenient regulations, which the new law is seeking to toughen up.

The new law is expected to win the necessary approval from the Senate and from President Bronislaw Komorowski.