AUSTRIA – Ten of thousands of Austrians took to the streets today to protest against proposed pension reforms that could see working life increased and benefits reduced.

The National Federation of Austrian Unions (OeGB) called the strike, which resulted in eight towns in Austria, including Vienna, being without public transport, according to local newspaper reports. Other areas affected were universities, hotels, banks, and industry. The OeGB estimated one million of its 1.4 million members were striking today.

Chancellor Wolfgang Scheussel has claimed such large-scale strikes to be an exaggerated response to the reforms, and has criticised the unions for using the strikes for political aims. Members are already discussing a second strike on May 13, however.

Proposed reforms include: increasing the age of retirement for men from 61.5 years to 65 years, and the age of retirement for women from 56.5 years to 60 years; reductions in their gross pensions increased to 4.2% from the current 3.75% for those who retire early; bonuses for those who retire later; changes in calculations which would see some pension payments reduced by 30%.

The coalition government did concede on some points last week, and altered proposals so that reforms would be introduced more gradually. There have also been suggestions that further tweaking may be seen, although the key areas of the reforms will remain.

The government’s plans for pension reform will be presented to Parliament in June.