AUSTRIA - The governing coalition’s long-awaited draft on pension harmonisation envisages the application of the new rules to under 50-years old workers rather than 55 years olds as so far suggested.

In July, the harmonisation, widely discussed in the public arena by members of the coalition and the opposition, was believed to be concerning workers from 55-years of age.

But Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel, presenting the government’s ‘investigative draft’, which had kept the cabinet in discussion for nearly a week and will be considered by parliament in the autumn session, has given Austrians what the press has described as a ‘surprise’.

The coalition parties have however also focused on the issue of pension rights for workers with physically demanding jobs, who Schüssel said were being given a ‘double bonus’.

The chancellor agued such workers would have every 12 months counted at 15 months, making it possible to retire at 60, but only if with a 20 years career or at 61.5 years of age after 15 years, with lower deductions than other early-retirees.

The coalition has specified that only five per cent of workers applying for pensions every year can claim these special rights, although the draft gives no definition of physically demanding job.

The so-called Hacklerregelung granting women with 40 year-career to retire at 55 and men with 45 years to stop at 60 will be kept until 2010.

“So, because it concerns only under –50, the harmonised pension law is to become operative even later than anticipated,” retaliated the Social Democratic Party.

“A real harmonisation of the pension system of public employees, farmers, tradesmen self employed and employees, will be reached very far away in the future,” the party also commented.

Secretary Norbert Darabos said: “This is a patch-work that does not deserve the name of harmonisation.”