Thousands of people from across Poland demonstrated noisily Friday outside Parliament to protest government plans to raise the retirement age to 67.
The law currently allows women to retire at age 60 and men at 65, but Prime Minister Donald Tusk wants to raise the retirement age to 67 for all Poles, saying it will increase pensions while reducing state debt.
The plan, supported by many economists, has angered the public. The unions are deeply unsatisfied by a new agreement the ruling coalition parties reached Thursday that would allow people to go into partial retirement earlier but with lowered monthly payments for the rest of their lives.
Piotr Duda, head of the Solidarity trade union, said the plan gives Poles the choice of "either working until death or quickly dying of hunger."
The protesters, blowing horns and carrying Solidarity white-and-red banners, were equally vocal.
"People are not strong enough to work as long as machines, 48 years, it is physically impossible," said Arkadiusz Maziar, a 40-year-old coal miner from Zory, in southern Poland.
"Tusk is an office clerk and he will never understand this. I am here to defend the people," he said.
Danuta Nowaczek, a 50-year-old cook from Zabrze, in the South, does not believe that longer work would markedly improve her pension, or that she will live to benefit from it.
"This is a joke, this plan and I don't want to work longer," Nowaczek said. "My father did not even live to get his retirement" at 65.
The crowd showed their anger as the lawmakers were debating a motion signed by some 1.4 million Solidarity supporters to hold a referendum on the matter.
Later in the day lawmakers voted 233-180 to reject the motion for a referendum. The referendum, which was not expected to get support, would almost certainly have meant the end of Tusk's pension reform ambitions due to its unpopularity.
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