AUSTRIA - The Austrian parliament has approved the controversial pension harmonisation that envisages a homogeneous system of contributions for workers under 50.

The lower chamber of parliament, the Nationalrat, has ratified the harmonisation, one of the hot political themes of the summer and autumn, after a debate lasting eight and a half hours.

The new law, which the right-wing coalition says will promote fairness, will be implemented in January 2005.

“For the first time with the harmonisation it has been achieved a coherent system that puts in place those under 50 in a consolidated pension system and ensures pensions for the future generations,” the Chancellor’s office commented.

The pension age has been set for 65 and 45 years of contributions for a pension deal worth up to 80% of wages.

Contributions will amount to 22.8%. Public employees will be included, an official of the Public Service Union, GÖD, told IPE.

Builders and traders will respectively pay 15% and 17.5% contributions but will receive help from the state, which will pays the difference.

Each worker is going to be given a pension account to ensure transparency.

Workers are also offered the option of choosing a “pension corridor”, which makes early retirement at 62 possible but with deductions of 4.2% a year.

Workers with physically demanding jobs will be given the option to claim three months early retirement a year after a minimum of 15 years, but with a deduction of 2.1% a year, half the rate that applies for other categories choosing early retirement.

An official definition of heavy labour has not yet been given.

But the newly ratified harmonisation has left room for exceptions: the ‘Hacklerregelung’, a rule that allows women with 40 years of contributions and man with 45, to retire respectively at 55 and 60 will remain in place until 2015.