AUSTRIA - The Green party has labelled the centre-right government’s planned harmonisation of the state pension system “a leap in the dark” with the “most negative” consequences for those affected.

The party’s social spokesman Karl Öllinger said the government was “skating on thin ice” taking assumptions which would later prove wrong. He also attacked the government’s position on female workers and the un-employed.

Max Walch of the right-wing Austrian Liberal party, FPOe which governs alongside with the Austrian People party, OeVP, retaliated - saying the Green Party has so far offered no “constructive suggestion”.

The FPOe is part of the centre-right government which has put its plans to do away with the current fragmented pension system at the heart of its reform agenda. The reform, agreed on July 12 after 22 rounds of negotiations with social partners, envisages the creation of individual pension accounts and a harmonised base for contributions. It should be presented to parliament in autumn and is expected to become law by January 2005.

Standard contributions would amount to 22.8% of gross wages, but farmers and self-employed workers should pay respectively 15 % and 17.5%.

“The green party has been criticising the government for years without contributing an alternative. The same pattern emerges here with pension harmonisation,” Walch said in a statement.

“It would be a leap in the dark if the pension system stayed as it is today.”

“Privilege and injustice must be part of the past. While the greens make endless polemics, the government works in the interest of the whole country.”

The FPOe has lately spoken about the pension harmonisation. Its website announces that things are getting going on the issue of pension harmonisation although there was “no conclusive result” yet.

The party said it would insist on improvements for workers with physically demanding jobs

The FPOe representative Herbert Scheibner stated: “We are in a very intensive phase of consultation with the coalition partners”, while the party’s leader Ursula Haubner said the party had developed a three-alternative programme to tackle the problem of heavy-workers.

She was quoted as being optimistic that one of the three solution could persuade coalition partner OeVP while her brother and president of the Carinthia province, Jörg Haider said that one year of heavy work should allow 15 months of pensions.

Lately economy minister Martin Bartenstein said that allowing workers with 45 years of contributions and workers with heavy jobs to retire before 65 years of age was “financially not feasible”.