ITALY - Trade unions and opposition parties say they will oppose the pension reform bill, due to start its last stage of parliament scrutiny Tuesday, as it is presented to the Labour Committee of the lower chamber.

The head of the economy division of opposition party, DS Democratici di Sinistra, Pierluigi Bersani, told the Italian press there would be a “hard battle” on the issue.

The three main trade unions, Ggil, Cisl and Uil, on the other hand, are due to meet on Wednesday to discuss the best way forward to encourage the economy and development.

A spokesman for the Cisl (Conferazione Italiana Sindacati Lavoratori) told IPE: ”The pension reform will be talked about within this framework of the_economy. What Cisl opposes above all is the government’s rigidity on pension age,” the spokesman said.

According the current regulations, workers who have accrued 35 years of contributions can retire at 57 years of age while those who have accrued 40 years of contributions may retire at any age. Cisl told IPE that workers should be given the choice to decide whether to work longer than 35 years.

“We have said it and I can confirm it again: the reform as it is, is wrong. We will ask for talks with the government. If they do not listen, we have until 2008 to oppose it the_reform,” he said.

Luigi Angeletti, the general secretary of Uil (Unione Italiana del Lavoro), which was not immediately available for comment, told the press he would ask for an audience with the Labour Committee on behalf of the three unions.

The reform draft, which so far has been approved by the senate after a long examination stage in the chamber’s own Labour committee, would propose an increase of the pension age and incentives, such as free bonuses for employees keen to work longer.

The intended reform should come in force in 2008 and the centre-right government, including welfare minister Roberto Maroni, have recently told the media it should finally be approved by July.

In mid-February Maroni, one of the reform’s architects, said: “The reform will happen before June.”

The parliamentary standard procedure allows the bill draft to go to the whole chamber for discussion providing the Labour Committee has completed and agreed on its works on the draft.

A Welfare Ministry official confirmed to IPE that the bill would be presented to the committee tomorrow but declined to make any further comment.