POLAND - An alliance between the Polish right of centre coalition government and the left of centre opposition party has overturned a presidential veto on legislation to create so-called bridge pensions and replace early retirement benefits.

The law was one of three bills pushed through by the government earlier this year to complete Poland's pensions reform.

The bridge pensions legislation is intended to reduce the numbers eligible to early retirement from 1.3 million to 250,000 and is intended to reduce the overall cost to the budget to PLN600m (€145m) a year from the current PLN20bn, by limiting eligibility to those who work in difficult labour conditions or whose jobs have special characteristics.

Participants would receive a temporary pre-retirement benefit until they reach the statutory pension age of 60 for women and 65 for men.

The measure was opposed by trade unions, whose supporters occupied the labour ministry in protest and president Lech Kaczynski ihad ndicated during the bill's passage through parliament that he saw it as being too drastic.

Both coalition parties indicated separately earlier this month that they favoured extending bridge pensions to teachers, in what was seen as an attempt to fend off a presidential veto, gain support from the opposition and a party-political attempt to curry favour with a 240,000-strong bloc of voters.

Kaczynski announced at a press conference on 15 December he would not sign the bill into law because it was unjust and argued an issue as sensitive as early retirement cold not be resolved without a social consensus.

The government needed a three-fifths majority in parliament to overturn the presidential veto and on 19 December the opposition Left Alliance joined the governing parties to overturn the veto by 285 votes to 160. Law and Justice (PiS), the other main opposition party formed by the president and his twin brother, voted against the move.

Analysts reported the offer to extend bridge pensions to teachers, who were excluded in the original version of the bill, was the key factor which eventually persuaded the Left Alliance to give their support.

The vote put the Left Alliance in a difficult position. A vote to overturn the veto could be seen as a betrayal by the trade unions, while allowing the veto to stand would be seen as blocking progress on pensions. As a result, after the vote it called for the measure to be submitted to the Constitutional Court to ensure its legal compliance.

The government also announced it would begin to work on a system of allowances as a form of bridging pension for teachers.

The other laws to complete the pensions reform were a law allowing annuities to be paid from assets accrued in second pillar funds, which was signed by Kaczynski, and a law on annuity providers, which it is considered likely he will also veto. The first payouts from the reformed system will come in 2009.