Danish transport hit by strike over pension reform

COPENHAGEN (Reuters) – Danish transport workers halted work on Thursday in a day-long wildcat strike over a pension reform proposal that the government has made the centrepiece of early campaigning in an election year.

Workers angered by a government proposal to abolish an early pension scheme halted city buses and stopped operations at Copenhagen airport and some harbours, union officials said.

The strike was also over rules that make drivers bear the costs of periodic refresher courses and disgruntlement over other policies, such as the cutting last year of unemployment benefits to two years from four, a union official said.

“So there are a lot of issues and people are getting tired of the Liberal government,” said Flemming Smidt, a spokesman for the 3F union’s transport section, which did not back the strike.

“The last drop was the government’s proposal to abolish the early retirement scheme that we have had since 1979,” said Smidt, who added that 3F had told its members to return to work.

It was not clear how many workers joined the strike, which stopped bus services in Copenhagen and several other towns, Danish media reported.

Flights at Copenhagen airport were delayed when ground crew workers joined the strike, but the airport said on its website service was expected to return to normal by mid-afternoon.

The centre-right government has proposed to phase out an early retirement scheme that allows Danes to retire at 60 instead of the statutory pension age of 65 and raise the basic retirement age to 67.

The government says that the scheme, initially meant for exhausted or sick workers, had become too popular with people still fit for work and too costly for a society that faces billowing pension costs as people live longer.

Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen warned the strikers of serious consequences if the pension reform failed.

“We can look forward to deficits, deficits and deficits and will therefore year after year have to decide where to make cuts or which taxes to increase — and both are bad,” Rasmussen said on TV2 News.

The pension reform proposal is likely to be the main topic in an election campaign this year.

Opinion polls indicate that the Social Democrat-led opposition, which rejects the plan, could unseat the government in the ballot that must be held by mid-November, but which many commentators expect to be held this spring.

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