AUSTRIA - Bert Ruerup, who headed Germany’s pension reform commission, has said Austria’s special pension regulations for workers with heavy manual jobs violated “the spirit of national insurance”.

He was quoted in the Austrian press as saying he was sceptical about the distinction under which workers with physically demanding jobs gain early-pension advantages.

Workers retiring before the pension age, 60 for women and 65 for men, have so far been penalised with a three percent a year reduction.

The reform envisages an increase to 4.2% but workers with physically demanding jobs would go on paying three percent.

Specific reduction for manual work should not be based on “insurance-economical” factors, Ruerup said, suggesting that access to invalidity pensions might be made easier instead.

He said he agreed with the decision to exclude 55-year-old workers from the reform, but was critical of opposition’s call - endorsed by some trade unions - that male workers with 45 years of work should be allowed to retire independently of pension age increases.

He said it was “a flagrant violation of the social-insurance principle”. Women, he added, should work as long as men, but a pension increase for women is actually planned between 2024 and 2033.

Heidrun Silhavy, the Social Democrats’ social affairs spokeswoman dismissed Ruerup’s arguments as a “one–sided assessment of facts”.

But Ruerup also praised the pension reform and the harmonisation of the fragmented system. The reform, he said, was “better than its image”.

“I think this is the most fear reaching-reform ever made in Austria.”

Last week the opposition threatened court action over the planned harmonisation of the state pension system.