Everyone should get a chance to work

Published on: 14 February 2022

As a convinced social democrat and member of the red family, Xander den Uyl, chairman of Pension Fund Work and (re)integration, puts his heart and soul into a good pension and more jobs for disadvantaged people in the labor market. "Companies should not exclude our participants, but include them."


Before the Covid crisis, the board of Pension Fund Work and (re)integration (PWRI) often did not meet at the office in Utrecht, but on location: at one of the sheltered employment companies. (Employees) Chairman and former trade unionist Xander den Uyl thinks it is unfortunate that the pandemic has made this impossible; he likes to be close to the disadvantaged people, for whom PWRI provides their pensions. This involves more than 200,000 pension accounts.


From becoming outdated and shrinking...

And that number is growing, because the fund is expected to add about 15,000 new active participants in one fell swoop. Here's the thing: in 2015, the government “locked up” the social workplaces and the Participation Act was passed. People with disabilities had to work in regular companies from now on. PWRI therefore did not get any new participants, the fund has become outdated and has shrunk in the past six years.


… to rejuvenation and growth

This is now going to change. Recently, a new CBA was signed for disadvantaged workers who are seconded by municipalities to local companies, for example in the provision of green space and cleaning. This CBA includes a pension plan, which is accommodated by PWRI. Den Uyl is pleased with the expected new participants. "Growth and rejuvenation will help us as a fund to continue to operate in the future and to provide a good pension for a group of people who really need it."


What is special about a pension provision for disadvantaged people?

"Some of our participants are very capable of standing up for themselves, but many others need support in their lives and with work. The security of a good pension is very important for this group. These are often people with a low income: minimum wage or slightly above. Our pension scheme therefore has a low franchise, so that people accrue a pension on their salary more quickly."


With inflation looming and people being able to buy less for their pension euro, how important is indexing?

We are in good financial shape as a fund: our policy coverage ratio is 113.3 percent. You can start indexing from 110 percent, which is what we will do from 1 January. That's unusual, because in the past ten years we've only been able to do that three times. But just like the previous times, we are still far from complete price compensation. If the indexation rules are broadened later, we might be able to do that next year. But first we want to know exactly what the rules will be. We also need to exercise caution: interest rates could fall again, as could equity markets, which could reduce the funding ratio. But if we can, we will index; that is our ambition."  


What motivates you to get involved specifically with these participants?

"As a board we feel very involved with our target group. Some board members have people in their immediate circle who are disadvantaged. I don't have that myself, but I did grow up in the social democratic tradition. It's a tradition that I've inherited and that forms the common thread in my life and career. I have been a member of the Labor Party for years and worked in the trade union movement for thirty years. There I was also able to look after the interests of our members in the sheltered employment sector; that was a good time. I am a member of the red family; that is where I feel at home. I am also on the board of PWRI on behalf of the FNV and I do that with conviction. As an old social democrat, I feel strongly motivated to help support this group of people in society."


Pension is a complicated subject. How do you communicate about it?

"Our target group is diverse and we adjust our communication policy accordingly. Some of our participants are very language literate and use the internet and social media. We can communicate with them digitally. Other participants are less language-savvy and have not made the digital transition. For that group, we still need to use paper-based communication and the language must be as simple as possible. We also tried visual communication. It looked good, but the message was not picked up enough. We first test all our communications with a focus group. This group consists of people who are close to the workplace and who have a better idea of what is going on there."

How do you reach participants with intellectual disabilities?

"Some need the help of someone else to understand our emails and letters, make pension choices and stand up for their interests. That is why we work with a system of case managers. We ask participants to voluntarily appoint someone close to them to help with pension administration and our communication as a fund. When a letter about the pension arrives, the participant can put it on the shelf until the case officer arrives. He or she can discuss what it says. Because of privacy laws, we register each case manager and only inform them if participants have given their permission."


We are facing a new pension system, with more personal responsibility. How will this affect the PWRI participant?

"The social partners have expressed a preference for the solidary premium contract (in which the amount of the premium the employer and employee pay for the pension is fixed, ed.). As a board, we can understand that. Many of our participants find it difficult to make choices. Even now, little use is made of the options offered by the existing system, such as retiring early, part-time and surviving dependents’ pensions, high-low constructions or a lump sum payment. This will not change in the future. The premium contract also fits in well with the sense of solidarity in social employment. If you are socially marginalized financially, there is a greater tendency to work together. I also recognize myself in that solidarity principle. I come from a collective thinking background: the common good must outweigh individual interests. Some people may think that's outdated, but it still holds true for this group of participants."


Your fund focuses on sheltered employment. How socially responsible is the pension capital of approximately ten billion euros being invested?

"About six years ago we made that a priority. We consciously invest 100 million euros annually in fifty listed companies that offer disadvantaged people the opportunity to work. We enter into discussions with these companies to encourage them to take concrete steps and to qualify for the Social Performance Ladder. The PSO was developed by TNO to independently measure how inclusive employers are. How many people from our target group do they employ themselves? Do they work with suppliers who create opportunities for our participant group? We use our influence as a shareholder to ensure that companies include, rather than exclude, people with disadvantages in the labor market."

We consciously invest 100 million euros annually in fifty listed companies that offer employment opportunities to people with disabilities

Isn't this hundred million euros just a drop in the bucket?  

"Even with one or a few shares, you are already a co-owner and can have a say. Moreover, listed companies are sensitive to their reputation. We actively ask questions at shareholders' meetings: what are you doing as an employer for people with disabilities? We have also made demonstrable progress in those six years: the number of companies using the PSO ladder is increasing. But it takes time."


So it takes patience. Are you a patient man?   

"No, patience is not in my character. But here I am thinking: this really needs a long-term approach. And as a pension fund, fortunately, we can make that long-term commitment. Incidentally, we also invest in social bonds (bonds used to finance social projects, ed.) and we want to make a contribution to social and sustainable housing construction in the Netherlands. We do that by investing in loans from the Social Housing Guarantee Fund, which helps housing corporations with funding through guarantees. Many of our members have to rely on social housing, so why should we invest in expensive real estate that they will never be able to afford anyway? In addition to a good pension, we want to help ensure a pleasant living environment and a sustainable society. Climate is also a priority in our investment policy."


How far will you take that?

"We were one of the first pension funds to invest in green bonds (bonds to finance environmental and climate projects, ed.). Nice, but we have been overtaken by time: investing in green bonds has become normal. We are now working on the next step: making our entire portfolio climate-neutral, net zero, to help limit global warming to 1.5 degrees. According to the Paris Agreement, that goal must be achieved by 2050, but we want our investment portfolio to be climate-neutral preferably as early as 2030. We are now looking at how we can go about that. Stopping investing in fossil fuels is on the table, yes, but not immediately. As a pension fund, we are dependent on the economy we invest in. Ultimately, the companies themselves will have to become climate neutral, although as investors we can influence that."

We want our investment portfolio to be climate-neutral preferably as early as 2030

You will be president of PWRI for one more year; in September 2023 you will step down as chairman of the board after three terms. What do you want to leave behind?

"Three things. First, I hope we have a clear strategy by then to be climate-neutral with our investments by 2030. I also hope that in 2023 we will be ready for the transition to the New Pension Contract. And finally, I hope that PWRI can look to the future as a growing and independent fund. We were to merge with PFZW (Pension fund Care and Wellbeing, ed.) in 2016. That was postponed at the time due to falling funding levels and unstable financial markets. Next year, we are going to do a reorientation on the decision in principle to merge. In the meantime, I think it would be better for us to continue under our own steam."


Because of those 15,000 new participants expected to join?

"With new participants, we can continue to offer an attractive premium and sufficient continuity. But in addition, as an independent fund we are better able to offer a pension plan that is tailored to our target group. I always hate to say it, but our participants live shorter lives on average because of their disability. They generally have less time to enjoy their pensions. As a result, we are actually cheaper than other funds. Perhaps you could use that financial advantage to allow our participants to retire a little earlier, given their lower life expectancy. There is now a temporary Early Retirement Scheme, which could be made permanent. The Board of Trustees is not responsible for this; it's a matter for the social partners. But I think it would be good for our participants. After all, it's for them that we're doing it all."                  

Who is Xander den Uyl?


Xander den Uyl was born in Amsterdam in 1953, the son of former Prime Minister Joop den Uyl and Liesbeth den Uyl. He studied economics at the University of Amsterdam. After his studies, he became a policy officer at trade union Abvakabo/FNV, where he worked for a total of three decades (with a three-year interlude as director of the province of North Holland). From 2004 to 2010 he was union secretary.   


Since 2010, Den Uyl has been a full-time director and supervisor in the pension world. He is currently employee chairman of the Pension fund Work and (re)integration (PWRI) and board member on behalf of the ABP pensioners. Den Uyl also specializes in sustainable investment. For the past six years, for example, he has been a member of the board of PRI (Principles for Responsible Investment), a United Nations-supported international network of investors working together on the global implementation of six ambitious principles for responsible investment.