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Austrian MPs pass pension reform bill

The Austrian parliament has passed the controversial pension reforms bill, although chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel had to concede on key points to calm rebellion among the two coalition parties.
Ninety-five members of parliament from the right-wing conservative coalition of the OeVP and the FPOe voted in favour of the bill, while 86 backbenchers from the opposition social democrat and Green Party voted against the bill.
Tensions among the parties had been rising, as Freedom Party members insisted that concessions should be made regarding the proposed reforms. National strikes and demonstrations had also increased pressure on Schuessel to readdress some of the key points.
Schuessel, who had already agreed to introduce reforms on a more gradual basis in order to appease critics, consented to cap maximum loss in civil servant retirement benefits at 10% rather than the proposed 11%, and to increase a fund to help those with small pensions.
As part of the reforms, the age of retirement for men will be increased from 61.5 years to 65 years, and the age of retirement for women will be increased from 56.5 years to 60 years. The increases are to be introduced gradually from July 2004 to 2013.
Those who decide to retire early will see reductions in their gross pensions increased to 4.2% from the current 3.75%, with early retirement being abolished by 2013. On the other hand, those retiring later will receive a bonus.
Other reforms agreed include a reduction in the rate of contribution increase from 2% to 1.78%. This will now be made in four gradual steps up to 2006.

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