Social Affairs: Raising hell

Debate over increasing the age of retirement for women intensified this week when it was revealed that Steinitz aims to raise it to 64.

Kadima MK Dalia Itzik 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Kadima MK Dalia Itzik 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
As intense discussions continued over the merits and pitfalls of the Trajtenberg recommendations for countrywide socio-economic reform, another debate raised its head again this week. The government’s goal to ultimately increase the retirement age for women to bring it in line with the retirement age for men.
“Netanyahu is talking about social change but in reality the only change that is being made is actually negative and is coming at the expense of working women,” commented Kadima MK Dalia Itzik, one of the many parliamentarians that has vehemently opposed raising the retirement age for women.
Her comments were in response to reports Tuesday that Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz had presented his recommendation to the Knesset’s Finance Committee – contradicting suggestions made earlier this summer by the treasury-appointed Nissan Committee – to increase the retirement age for women in the coming months from 62 to 64. The retirement age for men is 67.
“There was a vote in the Knesset in July on legislation proposing to freeze the retirement age at 62. There were 68 MKs present and Steinitz was the only one who voted against the proposals. I do not understand why he does not hear what the Knesset is saying or why he is not listening to the cries of the social protesters,” said Talia Livni, president of Na’amat, one of a large number of women’s rights organizations that have been lobbying against increasing the retirement age for women.
“We plan to lobby MKs to support the laws [that will stop the retirement age from increasing],” continued Livni, explaining that increasing the age of retirement for women will be detrimental to women who work in low-salaried jobs or who cannot find employment because of their mature age.
The argument of the women’s groups against raising the age of retirement stems from what they perceive as major gender inequalities prevalent in the workforce, which they feel have yet to be addressed by the government in any substantial sense.
“We can’t talk about equality between men and women only at the age of retirement, when throughout their entire working life men and women are not equal at all,” explained Dorit Abramovitch, who was appointed to coordinate the recently formed Coalition for Organizations against Raising Women’s Retirement Age in Israel.
The coalition includes a wide range of women’s groups such as Na’amat, the Women’s International Zionist Organization (WIZO), Mahut Center, Itach, the Israel Women’s Network (IWN) and social rights organizations the Adva Center and the Association of Civil Rights in Israel.
“First the state has to deal with employment opportunities for women who are middle-aged and older and it has to make sure there are consequences for companies that fire or discriminate against older women,” said Abramovitch. “Once there is a comprehensive program to tackle this problem then we can talk about increasing the retirement age,” she added.
“Retirement age today is 62, which is optional; if a woman has a successful career then she is likely to continue working until 67, but roughly 50 percent of women want to retire at the age of 62 and start receiving their state pension,” pointed out Abramovitch.
Meretz MK Zehava Gal-On, who along with Dalia Itzik and other parliamentarians, is driving legislation aimed at keeping retirement age at 62, said that increasing the markers now would be “catastrophic for many women who have been waiting to receive their state pensions.”
“This will only hurt women in general and make certain groups even poorer,” said Gal- On. She said that in countries where the government has started to bring women’s retirement age in line with men’s, it has been as “part of a process taken over 20 years with credible attempts to reduce gender gaps in the workplace.”
“Women earn less than men,” stated the MK. “It is no good talking about starting the equality only at the age of retirement. That is not fair.”
The storm over Steinitz’s recommendations this week has been brewing since March, when the minister appointed a special committee to research whether it was appropriate and practical to have women retire later.
Headed by then-Finance Ministry budget director Udi Nissan, the committee concluded that the age should be increased gradually over the next 15 years, with retirement age reaching 64 by 2017 and then 67, the same as men’s, by 2026.
Although women’s groups slammed Nissan’s recommendations earlier this summer, the treasury has defended the committee’s suggestions. The treasury points out that many other countries that, like Israel, are members of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) have begun a similar process based on the rationale that the period for which a person receives a pension is continually growing and therefore there is a need to find resources to support that extra time.
In addition to increasing the retirement age, the Nissan panel also recommended implementing a range of programs and tools aimed at encouraging employment for people more in advanced years, with an emphasis on women in the workplace.
“I think it is a mistake to freeze the age of retirement at 62 because then we are playing into the hands of employers who do not want to invest in older women or [choose to] fire them from the workplace,” commented lawyer Ofra Friedman, former chairwoman of Na’amat, who worked with Nissan’s committee.
“By not increasing the age we are saying that women are not able to work like men and we are putting ourselves backwards in terms of women’s rights,” she said.
“I have heard the arguments of women’s groups and I think that it does not move us forward at all. We should not be seen as poor souls who cannot work; if we paint such a picture then we are planting this image in the head of the employers,” said Friedman. “Employers will wonder why it is worth investing in older women if they know they are going to retire at 60,” she warned.
Friedman, who has become an active public voice in this debate, has instead suggested increasing the official retirement age but finding a flexible way to start distributing National Insurance Institute pensions to women who cannot find work.
“I really hope that we can find such a solution to this before it all becomes set in legislation,” she said.
Despite Friedman’s warning, a dearth of lawmakers, including Itzik, Gal-On, Minister of Culture and Sport Limor Livnat, who also heads the Ministerial Committee for the Advancement of the Status of Women, and Tzipi Hotovely, chairwoman for the Knesset Committee on the Status of the Women, have all vowed to block Steinitz from making any proposed changes and are moving ahead with their legislation.
Now it seems like a race against the clock. If these bills do not find parliamentary approval in time, then according to sources in the finance ministry, discussions in the Knesset’s Finance Committee are only a formality and the age of retirement will be raised to 64 in the coming months based on previous legislation.