AUSTRIA – Talks between the government and the social partners over the long-standing issue of “physically demanding” work for pension purposes has failed to bring a solution.

The issue has been at the heart of political debate in Austria for months because of its potential costs to public finances and the advantage that could bring to some workers.

The issue of defining “intense labour” has also played an important role in the run-up the approval of the pensions harmonisation, which was passed last November, with the opposition demanding answers and the government assuring that the issue would be seriously considered.

The debate did not end with the harmonisation, which became operational on January 1 2005. But it was passed without defining “intense labour”.

Early retirement at 62 is allowed but with deductions of 4.2% a year. The reduction would halve if the worker had “intense labour”.

Such workers with physically demanding jobs will be given the option to claim three months early retirement a year after a minimum of 15 years.

Social policy minister Ursula Haubner and economy and employment minister Martin Bartenstein have started meeting the social partners to settle the issue but so far the talks have yielded little consensus.

“There is no time issue, because the intense labour rule will be implemented in January 2007,” an official, Johannes Kopf, told IPE.

Kopf, Bartenstein’s adviser on pension policies, explained the government sought to find broad consensus.

“The question of finding a definition is exceptionally difficult, since the representatives of many professions say they do labour intensive work and the government wants to find a common line,” he told IPE.