May 18, 2016 / 11:33 AM / in 2 years

Bulgaria appoints new labor minister after split

SOFIA (Reuters) - Bulgaria’s minority government secured parliament’s backing for its new labor minister on Wednesday and promised to push on with unpopular pension reforms, showing it still had enough support from MPs despite the withdrawal of an ally last week.

Zornitsa Rusinova, the former deputy labor minister, replaced Ivailo Kalfin, who resigned when his ABV party withdrew its support for the center-right coalition due to disagreements over policy and changes in the election code.

ABV’s departure had raised concerns for the stability of the coalition in the European Union’s poorest country, which is on its fifth government since 2013.

But ABV’s lawmakers ended up joining other parties in voting to approve Rusinova’s appointment by 135 votes to 68.

Rusinova said she would press on with the “social policy” that includes the pension changes, calling it “a policy from the people for the people”.

The government says the plans to raise pensions contributions by one percentage point in 2017 and 2018, and other reforms, are needed to fund benefits for a shrinking and ageing population.

But they have angered many, including policemen, firemen and prison guards who blocked roads in the capital Sofia and protested in other cities in November.

The Black Sea state also plans to limit early retirement for police and army officers, who can draw a state pension as early as their late 40s, and gradually increase the retirement age for other hazardous jobs.

Bulgaria’s population has shrunk by a fifth since 1990 to 7.2 million, partly due to emigration. The World Bank has forecasted that just one in two Bulgarians will be of working age in 2050.

($1 = 1.7365 leva)

Reporting by Angel Krasimirov; Editing by Andrew Heavens

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