AUSTRIA - Austria should "strengthen" reforms of the pension sector and "close all avenues" to early retirement, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has said.

The IMF warned Austria that "pensions and other benefits fostering widespread, early, labour market exits are no longer affordable, and ongoing reforms should be strengthened".

In particular, the retirement scheme that allows people who have been insured for 45 years to retire early without losing any benefits "should be fully abolished" by 2012.

This so-called Hacklerregelung - 'Hackler' being a slang term for people working in manual professions - has been under discussion for the last decade, but no final decision was made on its abolition.

The IMF also said eligibility for disability pensions should be further reduced and that the scope of alternative occupations against which disability is assessed should be broadened.

It added: "All other avenues to early inactivity for older workers without fair benefit reduction must also be closed rapidly to avoid substitution across different avenues."

At the same time, Austria should create more job opportunities for older workers.

According to statistics cited by the organisation, the average age at which either a disability or an old-age pension is drawn is 59.1 years for men and 57.1 years for women.

The statutory retirement age in Austria is currently 65 years for men and 60 years for women, with the latter being equalised incrementally from 2024.