Russia proposes raising pension age, first hike in almost 90 years

by Anna MALPAS
A legacy of the USSR, Russia's retirement age -- set at 55 for women and 60 for men since the early 1930s -- is currently among the lowest in the world

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on Thursday proposed raising the state pension age to 65 for men and 63 for women, the first such hike in almost nine decades.

A legacy of the USSR, Russia's retirement age -- set at 55 for women and 60 for men since the early 1930s -- is currently among the lowest in the world.

"We propose a relatively long transition period -- beginning in 2019 we propose incremental increases to reach retirement for men at 65 by 2028 and 63 for women in 2034," Medvedev said of plans which must now be approved by parliament.

"This will allow us to direct additional funds into increasing pensions above the rate of inflation," he added.

Given the country's demographic decline, the current system represents a growing weight for the federal budget.

Currently 25 percent of Russians are above retirement age, a proportion that has risen every year for the last decade, according to the state statistics agency.

President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly said that reforms would be necessary at some stage.

The Kremlin announced in March it would prepare measures to allow pensions to increase faster than inflation, as pensioners have particularly suffered from a surge in prices in recent years.

- 'People won't live to see it' -

But the raising of the retirement age is expected to be a hugely unpopular move.

A petition against the measures created by Russian trade union groups on the website Change.org has gathered more than 199,000 signatures.

"Forty percent of Russian men and 20 percent of Russian women do not reach the age of 65. In other words, if the retirement age is raised these people will simply not survive to have their pensions," representatives of the unions said in a statement.

Currently the average age of death for a Russian man is 67, while for a woman it is 77, according to state statistics.

Muscovites questioned by AFP all said they opposed the move.

Vadim Lavrushin, a 29-year-old bank employee, told AFP that he had signed the Change.org petition because he was "categorically against" a hike.

"With the current situation in the country, people simply won't live to see that age," he said.

One woman, Svetlana Fesenko, who declined to give her age, argued that it was wrong to narrow the gap in pension age between the sexes.

"I think a woman should remain a woman and should retire much earlier than a man, not just two years earlier," she said.

Back in 2005, Putin made a public promise not to raise the pension age.

He said during a public question-and-answer session that "I am against increasing the retirement age. And while I'm president, such a decision will not be taken."

Other ex-Soviet countries have already introduced similar reforms, however.

Belarus is raising the pension age by six months every year from January 2017 until it reaches 58 for women and 63 for men in 2022.

Ukraine is gradually increasing its pension age to 60 for women by 2021 and raising the number of years people have to work to qualify for a pension.

A legacy of the USSR, Russia's retirement age -- set at 55 for women and 60 for men since the early 1930s -- is currently among the lowest in the world