AUSTRIA - The government is planning to enable more workers involved in what it defines as hard labour to apply for early retirement - albeit with initially reduced pension benefits.

Workers who perform irregular shifts, face stressful conditions or expend a lot of calories at their jobs can currently apply for retirement at 60 instead of the legal age of 65 - "a lot of calories" being 2,000 for men and 1,400 for women according to Austria's social ministry.

A ministry spokeswoman has now said the group of workers who, in theory, may retire early because of hard labour would be expanded to include those performing night shifts - that is between 10 pm and 6 am - and those who do project work.

"We are currently in the process of amending a directive to include those types of workers and expect the changes to take effect by the end of this year," she told IPE.

Other eligibility criteria for early retirement under the ‘hard labour' reforms include a requirement to show the individual has been doing such jobs for 10 of the last 20 years and has contributed to Austria's social security system for 45 years.

Those meeting all the criteria will see the annual pensions benefit reduced by 9% between the ages of 60 and 65, before being restored to the typical level.

The spokeswoman said, as a result of the amended directive, the ministry expected the number of workers meeting the criteria to total 575 for each of the next three years. Austria currently has around 3.5m employees.

However, the spokeswoman added of the 300 applications for early retirement in the first half of this year, only 46 had been approved.