By Antonio De la Jara
SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Chile's President Michelle Bachelet proposed a series of reforms to the private pension system late on Tuesday that would require heftier contributions from employers and independent workers in order to boost payments for retirees.
Bachelet's televised announcement comes as Chile's six private pension funds, which manage $160 billion in assets, have come under fire from protesters who say they do not guarantee a dignified old-age and only perpetuate inequality.
Bachelet proposed a 5 percentage point hike to the current 10 percent contribution rate within 10 years that would be paid for exclusively by employers. Contributions from self-employed workers would gradually become mandatory, she said.
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"This increase in contributions will allow us to build the foundation for collective savings with solidarity. Part of it will enable raising current pensions and the other part will be used to ensure more equity in future pensions," Bachelet said.
Workers would be given more say on investment decisions made by the pension funds, known as AFPs, which would be forced to pay back contributors after periods of losses, Bachelet said.
"Losing workers' funds cannot be business for anyone," said Bachelet, whose approval rating fell to an all-time low in June.
Bachelet also proposed eliminating hidden fees charged by the funds, using a single mortality table for both men and women and strengthening a program that provides a minimum pension for Chileans who have not worked or contributed to a fund.
She reiterated that she would continue to push for the creation of a public pension fund to give workers an alternative to the private system started in the 1980s during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.
Opponents of the AFPs plan to hold a protest on Wednesday.
(Reporting by Antonio de La Jara; Writing By Mitra Taj; Editing by Paul Tait)