ZAGREB (Reuters) - Croatia's leading trade unions said on Sunday they had collected enough signatures to force a referendum aimed at reducing the country's retirement age to 65 from the current 67 years of age.
Three top trade unions said they had collected more than 600,000 signatures in two weeks of their campaign which ended at midnight on Saturday.
"We want this to be an example how the citizens can raise their voice and make a change," said Mirela Bojic, one of the organisers of the unions' campaign "67 is too much".
The number of signatures needed was at least 10 percent of all the voters or 373,568 people. The Public Administration Ministry will now be tasked to verify the figure and if confirmed the parliament will have to call a referendum.
It is not yet clear when the referendum could be called, but the unions hope it would be after the summer.
The Croatian parliament in December approved the
government's proposal to raise the retirement age to 67 from
2033 and to reduce pensions for people who retire early.
. An earlier law envisaged lifting of the retirement age from 2038.
Under the new law there will also be a 3.6 percent pension reduction for each year of an earlier retirement. The trade unions want to cut that to 2.4 percent.
Croatia, like many European countries, has an ageing
population and the ruling conservative-liberal coalition
insisted the changes were necessary to make the pension system
sustainable. Many local experts agree.
The budget has to finance about 17 billion kuna (£2 billion) from taxes every year to cover a gap in the pay-as-you-go public pension scheme, which costs almost 40 billion kuna annually.
The government said that a reversal of the reform would bring additional 45 billion kuna of financial burden to the budget until 2040 and could make the pensions lower in the future.
The unions say that life expectancy in Croatia is shorter than in its EU peers and that many workers who cannot work until 67 for health reasons would be penalised too much if they retire earlier.
Many analysts say that Croatia must make its pension and health systems sustainable to remove risks for the public finances in the future. Croatia is currently making efforts to reduce the public debt in a drive to adopt the euro in about five years.
(Reporting by Igor Ilic; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)