Ministers enter Austrian rail pensions row

AUSTRIA - Cabinet ministers Hubert Gorbach and Karl-Heinz Grasser have dismissed the option of early pensions for up to 6,000 employees of the state railways as the government continues its work to implement the pension harmonisation.

Earlier the government finally decided to implement the principles of the controversial pension harmonisation, which seeks to end a fragmented pension system.

The harmonisation is seen as this government’s continuing efforts to keep people at work longer, a principle already expressed in the pension reform of 2003.

Now two of the cabinet ministers, transport minister Gorbach and finance minister Grasser, have sparked a row by slammed plans for early retirement for some 6,000 surplus railways workers of the Österreichische Bundesbahnen, or OeBB, from the age of 47.

As a consequence of the ongoing reforms, the option of early retirement for people covered by the general social insurance law, ASVG, is getting gradually abolished. But the OeBB is entitled by law to shift surplus workers into early retirement.

In an interview with an Austrian newspaper, Gorbach, said early retirement should be “the last resort” and called for OeBB managers to think of the state resources and the interest of the public companies as well.

Grasser commented on TV that a wave of early retirement would be “unacceptable”.

The background of the dispute is a possible reform of the employment rights of OeBB’s employees and the reorganisation of the railway system.

According to press reports, the two ministers would like to reform dismissal protection rights, which are guaranteed by law. But this would need the help of the whole SPOe, the social democratic party.

From 2005 all employers of the federal railways will be called on deciding how many of the 47,000 employees can be kept in jobs. So far the OeBB has not disclosed any figure.

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