ITALY - The Chamber of Deputies, the Italian parliament's lower house, has now approved a key bill designed to reform the nation's creaking pensions system.

In a statement on its website, the lower house - a majority of which is controlled by the supporters of prime minster Romano Prodi's centre-left coalition - announced last night it has approved Prodi's key pensions bill by a vote of 326 to 238.

The chamber said it had voted to approve the proposed amendment which will substitute a law passed under the previous centre-right government, and which would have raised the retirement age from 57 to 60 starting next year.

Under the new legislation, based on an agreement between Prodi and the labour unions reached in July, the retirement age will now only go up in 2011 for those who have paid into the system for at least 36 years.

The bill also encompasses other law changes in relation to job security and early retirement.

According to the announcement, the bill will now have to go through the Italian senate but this could prove problematic as Romano Prodi has only a one-seat advantage in the senate.

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