This weekly compilation of stories from wire services, newspapers and other sources is intended to keep Mercer employees and registered visitors to mercer.com informed of benefits, compensation and HR developments around the world. Facts have not been independently verified, and opinions expressed are those of the editor. Readers are invited to clarify, correct or expand on these items.
Top stories in this issue:
China: Confusion reigns as social security rules take effect
EU: IORP Directive consultation
Ireland: Pension levy bill passed, still contested
Japan: Compensation tax agreement
UK: Employer debt consultation
Guidance for pension fund administrators
Daily Champion, Daily Independent, Daily Trust
The National Pension Commission (PenCom) has revised its Guidelines for Operation of PFAs, tightening standards for fund governance, officer qualifications, risk management, investment operations and customer service. Another recent PenCom circular set out minimum share capital requirements for PFAs. Raising the paid-up share capital from N150 million to N1 billion is expected to promote a “healthy” consolidation of the market.
New earnings threshold for overtime pay; Labour bills to be revised
Business Day, Sowetan Live, IOL
A Department of Labour Notice that took effect on 1 July set a maximum salary threshold for overtime and break entitlements well in excess of a cost of living increase. The annual cap rose from R149,730 to R172,000 (US$25,622). Affected benefits include:
- overtime, weekend and holiday premiums
- daily and weekly rest periods
- meal breaks
Also, it is now official that the National Economic Development and Labour Council (NEDLAC) has had to appoint a tripartite committee to redraft all four (IH 12/22/10) of the Department of Labour’s problematic labour reform bills (IH 04/06/11), not just the Labour Relations Amendment Bill (IH 06/15/11). All factions agreed that the texts were “badly drafted” and posed a threat to the economy. The revisions are expected in November.
FBT caution on loans from employee share trusts; Mercer paper on “stronger super”implications; Third try on means-testing health insurance rebate
Tax Analysts, Global Pensions, AAP
The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) has issued a taxpayer alert warning of exposure to fringe benefits tax (FBT) in a complex new compensation arrangement. The trustee of an employee share trust loans employees money to buy shares from the trust. The employer repays the loan with funds that the employees have salary sacrificed. This resembles a well-crafted tax dodge, but the ATO determined in a recent Interpretive Decision ID 2011/54 that it is subject to FBT as an expense payment benefit.
Also, Mercer has produced the booklet, Stronger Super: What will it mean for superannuation funds and members? Drawn from the Super System Review (IH 07/14/10), the Stronger Super reforms (IH 12/22/10) have not yet materialized as legislation and are penciled in for 1 Jul 2013 with a two-year transition, but they entail such comprehensive change that the report urges providers to start planning now.
In addition, the Australian Tax Office (ATO) announced that it has submitted a trio of bills on means testing the private health insurance rebate to Parliament. This is the third attempt at legislation first mentioned in the 2009-10 Budget. This refinement of the means-testing plan has several tiers, basing rebate level and Medicare levy surcharge on age and income level. If the bill is passed, the changes will take effect on 1 Jan 2012.
Confusion reigns as expat social security rules take effect; Wage increase agenda modified; Health reform update
Xinhua, Reuters, SCMP
The extension of social security coverage to foreign workers (IH 06/29/11) went into effect on July 1 without the benefit of implementing regulations. Stakeholders are certain of little other than that they are expected to start making contributions. In fact, a prominent Hong Kong daily reported that the delay of final regulations amounted to a postponement of the new regime. Some municipalities, most notably Beijing and Shanghai, have issued their own regulations. The State Council’s Legislative Affairs Office held a brief consultation last month on draft rules that do clarify a few matters:
- Foreigners will contribute to all five social insurance schemes.
- Workers from Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macao fall within the definition of “foreign.”
- Members may withdraw their personal retirement accounts upon permanently leaving China and there are allowances for those who are reposted in China to re-start their accounts.
The government has posted a fair overview of what is known at this stage. It has launched a national campaign to raise awareness about changes to the Social Insurance Law, but one official conceded that the final regulations and guidelines could be several months away.
Last month, the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security said that the minimum wage is slated to rise by 13% each of the next five years, which is expected to be a 7% hike in real terms. This is a step back from the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) goal of doubling the minimum in the same period at a rate of 15% per year (IH 04/27/11). This will coincide with a five-year plan to reduce income disparity among industries.
Meanwhile, China’s essential medicine system, a nationwide drug formulary first introduced in 2009 (IH 08/26/09), will complete its roll-out to government-sponsored health facilities by the end of this year. All drugs on the list are provided to patients at cost. Another health reform initiative, this one at the pilot stage, will allow physicians in select cities to open private clinics. The Health Ministry has produced standards for operating these clinics.
Leave compensation in a bankruptcy
The government-sponsored Protection of Wages on Insolvency (Amendment) Bill 2011 is due for its first and second readings in the Legislative Council this week. The bill would amend an existing ordinance on wage protection in a bankruptcy to set out the extent to which annual leave entitlement and credit for deferred holidays are acquired rights. There would be a total compensation ceiling of $10,500 (US$1,350) under these two provisions.
NPS reform report
DNA, Times of India, Economic Times
The Bajpai Committee, the Committee to Review Implementation of Informal Sector Pension (CRIISP), was initially convened to propose options for extending the New Pension Scheme (NPS) to the informal sector, but NPS’s dismal launch has expanded the task to drawing up proposals for reforming NPS. The report recommends:
- Dropping the minimum annual subscription rate from Rs6,000 to Rs1,000 (US $22.56)
- Replacing the Central Recordkeeping Agency (CRA) charge of Rs280 per year with a wide range of fees starting at Rs20
- Increasing access, including post offices among the new points of presence
- Allowing a 0.5% commission charge
Retirement age equalization proposal
IBA, Ha’aretz, Jerusalem Post
The Budget Director’s public committee on reviewing the retirement age for women was initially charged with considering a controversial proposal to raise the age from 62 to 64. The government members of the committee recommended gradually equalizing it with the male retirement age of 67 at a recent meeting. The group is sharply divided on this and – if the proposal ever becomes legislation – it is not expected to clear the Knesset Finance Committee. A proposal to block such a bill is already before the Knesset and the more conciliatory stakeholders are urging that the retirement age hike be part of a legislative package including measures to improve the job market for women.
Consumption tax agreement; Tax reform measures enacted, amended
Japan Times, Kyodo News, Tax Analysts
The administration and the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) have delivered an outline of a tax reform plan that would see a transition to a 10% consumption tax (IH 06/22/11) completed in “the mid-2010s.” The Prime Minister had not been able to secure his preferred deadline of fiscal 2015. A DPJ panel will negotiate details of the transition with government officials.
Also, the government enacted some measures from the Finance Ministry’s 2011 tax reform agenda (IH 01/20/11) last month and amended others in preparation for further debate:
- Qualified corporations may now claim a ¥200,000 tax deduction for each new worker hired between 1 Apr 2011 and 31 Mar 2014.
- The elimination of the adult dependents deduction – for workers with non-disabled dependents between ages 23-69 – has yet to pass.
- The employment income deduction for high-earners and the removal of the retirement allowance deduction for short-term executives are among the other measures still awaiting debate.
Cabinet approves proposal for higher health levy ceiling, increase on selected co-payments
KBS, Yonhap, Korea Times
The Cabinet’s last weekly meeting of June featured agreement on a revised enforcement ordinance to the national health insurance law. It would raise the cap on income subject to health insurance premiums and lift the co-payments for medicine in the larger general hospitals. Also on the horizon is a Health and Welfare Ministry proposal to extend the "sin tax" to junk food and alcoholic beverages.
Finance Act 2011-12
The Dawn, PNP, Business Recorder
The Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) and the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) have collaborated on Finance Act 2011/12, a large package of financial sector reform measures. Voluntary Pension Schemes (VPS) are a main beneficiary. Limits on tax relief for VPS contributions have been lifted to establish a rough parity with other retirement schemes and an exemption from minimum tax will make VPS competitive with mutual funds and investment schemes. Another measure allows tax-free distributions of up to 50% from pension funds.
Final rules for captive insurance
Gulf Times, Captive.com
The Qatar Financial Centre Regulatory Authority (QFCRA) has set out to establish a hospitable regime for captive insurers (IH 04/27/11) with publication of Captive Insurance Business Rules 2011 and Insurance Mediation Business Rules 2011. Both sets of rules went into effect on July 1.
President stalls pension reform bill; Labor law flexibility package; Pension, health reform measures progress
PDM, Reuters, WSJ
The President has declined to sign the “small pension reform” bill that just cleared Parliament (IH 06/29/11). He reasoned that aligning benefits more closely with contributions violated the principle of society’s obligation to provide for seniors. He is legally obliged to either sign the bill or return it to the Chamber of Deputies, which has the votes to override his veto, within 15 days. He evidently plans to let the deadline lapse, but there is reportedly a mechanism for promulgating a measure without the President’s signature.
Meanwhile, the Cabinet has approved a set of labor market flexibility measures (Czech only) that adheres to the principle, “what is not prohibited is allowed.” Among the stand-outs:
- The maximum fixed-term contract would grow from two years to three and would be renewable twice.
- The aggregation of working hours is much looser, with a maximum shift set at 12 hours.
- The severance pay compensation formula would entail a sharp cutback for long-term staff.
- The probation period for senior management would double to six months.
Also, the final Cabinet meeting managed to both avert dissolution of the ruling coalition and approve some pension reform legislation (IH 02/24/11)and some minor health reform measures. The second pillar pension would be optional, but there would be auto-enrolment. People now age 35 would have to make a final decision on membership by the end of 2012. Those under age 35 would have to decide before 35. Second pillar participants would have the option of diverting 3% of the contribution into a third pillar scheme, provided they add another 2%. The third pillar schemes would have four funds differentiated by risk/rewards balance and they would be expected to have a better investment performance than the second pillar. The system is expected to launch on 1 Jan 2013. The health bills address some of the ancillary issues in the government’s health reform plan, including medical records, grievance procedures and emergency services.
IORP Directive consultation; Various
Professional Pensions, IPE, Euractiv
The European Insurance and Occupational Pension Authority (EIOPA) has opened a public consultation on possible revisions to the Institutions for Occupational Retirement Provision (IORP) Directive. It comes in the form of a response to input from last April’s request for information (IH 05/04/11). This consultation draws attention to a handful of key issues including cross-border activity, governance, outsourcing and prudential regulation. Responses are welcome through 15 Aug 2011.
In other news:
- EIOPA has released the results of a Solvency II stress test conducted this spring on a large sampling of EEA (European Economic Area) insurers. The findings – 90% passed – support its assertion that Solvency II Minimum Capital Requirements (MCR) would not trigger an upheaval in the insurance sector.
- A plenary vote in Parliament overwhelmingly rejected the European Council’s proposal for contingency arrangements on intra-EU border controls in extraordinary circumstances (IH 06/29/11). The Council had tasked the European Commission with developing a plan spelling out the scenarios that would warrant limits on freedom of movement.
- The Employment Commissioner announced that draft revisions to legislation on the posting of workers are due by the end of this year. The drafts will address the right of unions to take collective action in a “social dumping” situation and will propose measures to better protect the rights of posted workers.
Retirement age developments; Occupational health advances
AFP, Le Monde, IPE
The Labor Ministry’s Decree N. 2011-620 (French only) details the scenarios under last year’s pension reforms legislation (IH 11/04/10) that would allow a person to retire on full pension despite career breaks (IH 10/12/10). The exemptions are for cases of permanent disability and for mothers of at least three children. The Labor Minister recently announced that a life expectancy peg set in 2003 will raise the contribution period for a full pension by three months to 41.5 years. Also, the Socialist Party is campaigning on a promise to bring the retirement age back down to 60.
In addition, Parliament has passed (French only) the occupational medicine reform bill (IH 02/02/11). It will bolster monitoring and preventive services for occupational ailments, particularly afflictions attributed to the modern workplace. The Labor Ministry has introduced (French only) a related website (French only) on combating hazardous conditions in the workplace. This initiative is actually a by-product of last year’s pension reform which set out to curb exposure to workplace hazards that make it difficult to keep working to a normal retirement age. It accompanies a decree stating that companies with at least 50 workers and at least half of them exposed to some risk factor must develop an action plan on reducing risk.
Pension levy bill passed, still contested
BFDN, Irish Examiner, IPE
Both houses of Parliament have now approved Finance (No. 2) Bill 2011 (IH 05/25/11) , which features the Finance Ministry’s controversial pension levy (IH 06/02/11). Stakeholders are still working on an alternative plan to derive similar budget stimulus from pension funds investing 5% of assets into an infrastructure fund. There have been harsh projections of retirement income losses under the temporary pension tax.
Pension system review dismissed
Baltic Daily, LETA, Baltic Times
A Strategic Analysis Commission reporting to the President’s Office has delivered a high-profile report slamming the pension system as broken beyond repair (IH 03/16/11). Officials have counter-attacked, charging that in light of past (IH 12/15/10) and imminent reforms, the commission’s findings are alarmist and “misbegotten.”
Cabinet approves retirement savings scheme
Baltic Course, ELTA, BBD
The Cabinet has approved a plan that would give people the option to transfer part of the contribution to the social insurance fund, SODRA, to a retirement savings scheme. The amount would rise over time:
- From 1 Jan 2013, those re-routing 2% of the SODRA contribution and adding 1% out-of-pocket would receive a state “match” of 1% of average salary.
- From 1 Jan 2016, the amount shifted from SODRA would stay the same but workers would kick in an additional 2% of pay and employers another 2% of average pay.
- From 1 Jan 2020, employer and government contributions would stay the same but the contribution transferred from SODRA would rise to 3.5%.
One does have the option of just diverting SODRA contributions and adding nothing further. Many details are not yet fleshed out and the press accounts differ on some basic issues such as the right to re-direct contributions to SODRA. Incidentally, the recently passed legislation on gradually raising the retirement age to 65 is posted (Lithuanian only) on the legislation (IH 06/15/11) website.
Pension reform measures
IPE, IPE, IPE
The trade union federation FNV will not vote on ratifying the tripartite pension agreement (IH 06/22/11) until 12 September, but the Minister of Social Affairs and Labor has already submitted measures (Dutch only) based on its retirement age hike provisions (IH 06/15/11) to Parliament. The bill also includes the accord’s provisions on a 6.5% benefit increase per year of retirement deferral. Additional pension measures previewed by the Social Affairs Minister include a cap on pension schemes' expected returns to curb unrealistic assumptions. Legislation due from the ministry this fall would set higher standards for pension fund governance while allowing greater flexibility in board composition.
Social tax cuts ahead
In a speech on budget policies for 2012-14, the President “pledged” to cut the recently raised social tax (IH 06/08/11) in 2012-13. The employer payment is set to drop from 34% to 30% and small enterprises would pay just 20%.
Health reform measures, Super-gross wage
Parliament has now enacted measures on the terms under which private health insurance companies may pocket their own profits (IH 05/04/11). Insurers will first have to place 20% of capital in a reserve fund and maintain a technical reserve fund for relief of patients who have been stuck in queues (IH 03/30/11). Another measure before Parliament would require doctors to prescribe drugs by their active ingredients and oblige pharmacists to fill the prescriptions with generic equivalents whenever possible. This would take effect on 1 Sep 2011.
Also, the Minister of Labour and Social Affairs has advised the press that the “super-gross salary” measure (IH 05/25/11) will come into force at the start of next year. This would entail lowering the percentages of social security levies to offset the broader definition of taxable compensation. It is not clear whether the ministry will need Parliament’s approval for these changes.
Pension reform advances; Medical copayment proposal
EFE, El Pais, IPE
The Chamber of Deputies approved the administration’s pension reform legislation (IH 02/02/11) late last month following a few modest concessions (IH 06/29/11). If all goes well in the Senate, the retirement age climb from 65 to 67 could start next year.
Also, an Analysis and Studies Foundation (FAES) report commissioned by the main opposition Popular Party (PP) will consider the feasibility of introducing a copayment scheme to the health system. The Health Ministry has avoided this issue as one of the third rails of Spanish politics. PP is currently well ahead in the polls and calling for early elections, so this could prove to be a major campaign issue.
Corporate governance appeal
Dow Jones, IPE
Institutional investor group Ethos has concluded from its survey of financial sector executive remuneration that the field is under-regulated. It has declared that revision of Swiss company law, the Swiss code of best practice and the Corporate Governance Directive of the SIX Swiss Exchange are “urgent” priorities.
Parliament approves pension reform
UKRANO, RIA Novosti, IPE
Parliament has passed the pension reform legislation (IH 06/15/11) demanded by the nation’s lenders, but hurdles remain. The President has submitted the bill to “expert examination” and has not ruled out a veto. Opponents of the narrowly passed bill question the legality of a vote in which most of those who supported the measures were absent and represented by proxy. The latest accounts say that the transition from a retirement age of 55 to 60 for women would be staggered over 10 years, not 15 as reported a few months back (IH 04/27/11). The normal contribution period for women would rise from 30 years to 35.
Employer debt consultation; Pension scheme regulatory differences; DC plan discussion paper; Various
Professional Pensions, Employee Benefits, IPE
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has opened a consultation on additional draft regulations supporting the provisions in Section 75 of the Pensions Act 1995 that cover the employer debt triggered when a company leaves a multiemployer defined benefit plan (IH 03/17/10). The draft features a flexible apportionment arrangement which under certain circumstances allows a participating employer to take on the liability of an employer that is leaving the scheme. The consultation will run through 10 August.
Also, the government has issued its response to the consultation Call for Evidence: Regulatory Differences between Occupational and Workplace Personal Pensions (IH 02/09/11). This exercise is part of the preparation for auto-enrolment, trying to ensure that no anomalies are created. The response heralds a set of proposals due this fall that will address problem areas for auto-enrolment including short service refunds and small pots. It also flags differences in disclosure requirements and scheme governance.
Meanwhile, the Pensions Regulator (TPR) has issued the discussion paper response Enabling good member outcomes in work-based pension provision. The aim is to refine defined contribution plan regulation in advance of next year’s introduction of auto-enrolment. The main problem to surface in this review is high administrative fees that face relatively few disclosure requirements. An accountability framework featuring greater transparency in fee disclosure is in preparation as is a more detailed version of this discussion paper response.
In other news:
- The Office of Tax Simplification (OTS) has identified the tax regimes for pensioners and share schemes as its next two targets for simplification. Terms of reference for the project are due this month.
- The Public Bill Committee is slated to report on the Pensions Bill (IH 06/22/11) next Tuesday, 19 July. Critics have noted that the official list of amendments include nothing on relief for those women hit hardest by the accelerated retirement age increase.
- High-profile services “unlocking” pension assets before retirement for a hefty commission became a grave enough concern for TPR that it pursued and obtained a freezing injunction on affected assets from the High Court.
- The Commission on Funding of Care and Support has issued a new report on financing elder care. The proposals include cost-sharing, means-testing and a tax on pensioners earning over £7,228 per year. There would be a cap on copayments, possibly in the £35,000 range.
Sexual harassment, anti-discrimination draft legislation
Caribbean 360, Barbados Advocate, Bajan Reporter
The Labour Ministry is nearing completion of workplace sexual harassment legislation that first germinated in 2004. The (female) Labour Minister conceded that progress has been slowed by the fear of many officials – including cabinet members – that the legislation would result in discrimination against men. The ministry’s human rights initiative has also occasioned a review of anti-discrimination legislation. A draft bill addressing HIV/AIDS discrimination in employment (now covered by a social partner code of conduct) is likely to end up protecting against race, gender, nationality and disability discrimination too.
Ontario pension splitting regs; “Big CPP” model back in contention; Budget measures passed
Vancouver Sun, Mondaq, LTN
The Financial Services Commission of Ontario (FSCO) has published the implementing regulations on division of pension assets in a marriage breakdown (IH 05/04/11). The announcement links to an FAQ and notes that new FSCO family law forms reflecting the changes are imminent. The rules will take effect on 1 Jan 2012.
Meanwhile, the Institute for Research on Public Policy (IRPP) has reintroduced the expanded CPP (Canadian Pension Plan) model to the pension reform debate (IH 05/11/11) with A New Pension Plan for Canadians: Assessing the Options. Citing the decline of defined benefit private pension plans, the report outlines a mandatory national defined benefit plan based on the CPP. The income replacement ratio on salaries of up to $48,300 would rise from 25% to 40%. Incidentally, Bill C-3 Supporting Vulnerable Seniors and Strengthening Canada’s Economy Act (IH 06/22/11) passed through Parliament without significant changes.
Debt relief negotiations; Proposed regs on performance-based compensation
Mondaq, AP, Reuters
The President and congressional leaders have been in intense negotiations over debt reduction measures to accompany an emergency lifting of the debt ceiling. Much of it has been psychological warfare, but it’s worth noting a few items that have appeared on the table so far:
- Conferees have spent some time reviewing the tax break on employer-provided medical benefits. Discussion has centered on setting a cap on the tax relief , one that would not register much impact until after a few years of medical inflation.
- A Chained Consumer Price Index may be used to slow Social Security cost-of-living adjustments.
- Proposals for Medicare have included increasing the eligibility age from 65 to 67 and raising premiums for the well-off.
Also, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has posted proposed regulations seeking to clarify the definition of “qualified performance-based compensation” under Section 162(m), the provision of the Internal Revenue Code that limits a publicly held company’s deduction on a person’s annual pay to $1million unless a payment meets that definition. It offers new disclosure requirements for the incentive stock schemes and specifies which stock schemes are exempt from 162(m) when a company is transitioning from private to public. Comments are welcome through 22 September.
Retroactive ruling on pension benefits for gay partners; Bankruptcy Act
AP, MercoPress, Telam
A recent Supreme Court decision (Spanish only) found that the surviving partner of a gay couple who were together for 40 years is entitled to social security survivor benefits even though the partner’s death in 1996 came 14 years before passage of the gay marriage law (IH 07/21/10) establishing entitlement to pension benefits. The court reasoned that the law “cannot ignore situations like these.”
Also, the President has signed the Bankruptcy Act, which gives a regulatory framework to the increasingly common practice of worker cooperatives taking over a company when it becomes bankrupt. It sets terms for worker involvement in the bankruptcy process, giving them first dibs on acquisition of the company. Full payment of all compensation , including untaken leave, is a top priority.
Banker remuneration disclosure; Alternative investment guidance
AFP, SNS, HR Magazine
The Basel Committee on Banking Supervision has issued Pillar 3 disclosure requirements for remuneration (IH 01/06/11). Pillar 3 features more detailed banker remuneration disclosure requirements than other prominent global guidelines, including sign-on awards and severance pay as well as the role of risk in determining variable compensation policy. Also, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation (OECD) and Development and the International Organisation of Pension Supervisors (IOPS) have collaborated on Draft OECD/IOPS Good Practices on Pension Funds’ Use of Alternative Investments and Derivatives, a consultation on draft guidance on managing the risk inherent in these popular new investment vehicles. Comments are welcome through 9 Sep 2011.
Comments or queries may be directed to Patrick Sweeney at +1 212 345 2462. Click here to find your local Mercer office.