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Chile's Congress definitively approves pension reform law

Senators in Chile give the thumbs up as they vote on pension reform
Senators in Chile give the thumbs up as they vote on pension reform FRANCESCO DEGASPERI AFP
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Santiago (AFP)

Chile's Congress on Thursday approved a law allowing citizens to withdraw up to 10 percent of their pension funds to help mitigate the effects of the coronavirus, delivering a political blow to President Sebastian Pinera, who opposed the measure.

The final vote in the Chamber of Deputies was a foregone conclusion since the bill had already been approved by the lower house last week and then by the Senate on Wednesday.

The bill was approved by 116 votes to 18 with five abstentions. The Senate vote Wednesday was 29 to 13 with one abstention.

The change had been opposed by the Pinera government but nonetheless won the support of several legislators in the governing coalition.

It would be the first major reform of the privatized pensions system since it was installed under late former dictator Augusto Pinochet.

The program requires workers to pay 10 percent of their salaries into an individual account that is managed by administrators of private pension funds.

These AFPs, as they are known, are deeply unpopular in Chile and were a focal point of widespread anti-government protests in October 2019.

Many people had seen their pensions fall below the minimum monthly wage of 301,000 pesos ($390) even though the pension plans were supposed to guarantee them 70 percent of their last salary.

When the Chamber of Deputies first approved the new measure last week, Chileans in Santiago and other cities banged pots and pans in protest.

With the bill's passage, 10.9 million people will be able to withdraw up to 4.3 million pesos ($5,400) from their pension funds to help confront the economic crisis provoked by four months of coronavirus-induced semi-paralyzation.

A similar measure that passed in Peru in May saw hundreds of thousands of people withdraw up to $3,700 from their pension funds.

Pinera has opposed the change and countered with a package of measures to support the middle classes, including a $630 bonus and low-interest loans of $1,900.

But he failed to sway a number of ruling coalition legislators whose political futures depend on middle class voters, many of whom feel abandoned by the government.

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