Leitl denies ‘bullying businesses’ claim

The president of the Austrian Economy Chamber (WKO) has rejected accusations that companies are bullying elderly employees.

Conservative Pensioners’ Union chief Andreas Khol claimed that many of the people who retired before having reached the regular pension age might have been “bullied” by their employers. Khol said he agreed with Karl Blecha, who heads the Social Democratic Pensioners’ Union, that such firms should be forced to compensate the state for tax revenue decreases caused by their actions.

Khol, who once served as People’s Party (ÖVP) whip and president of the federal parliament, said he could not imagine that all of the Austrian workers and employees who quit working at an early stage did so voluntarily. The Conservative Pensioners’ Union head said that 70 per cent of all cases of retirement of 2011 were premature.

Law says that men must work until 65. Women are obliged to remain active members of the labour market until 60. The real average pension age is 58 nevertheless. Khol stressed that enterprises would benefit from elderly people’s experience. He also made aware of the public pension system’s exploding costs.

WKO President Christoph Leitl vehemently denied the pensioners’ complaints. He said it was not true that Austrian businesses were harassing older staff to force them into retirement. Asked for his opinion of Khol’s idea of issuing fines on repressive companies, the WKO boss said: “Punishment never gets you far.”

Leitl suggested the state should rather concentrate on encouraging citizens to work longer by significantly increasing their pensions. People’s Party (ÖVP) chief Michael Spindelegger presented a pension reform model of similar content. The vice chancellor said everyone willing to work longer than they had to could get more money after retiring. Spindelegger also called for pension cuts for everybody who quit prematurely.

The ÖVP boss failed to get the go-ahead for such changes of the Austrian pension system from his party’s government coalition partner, the Social Democrats (SPÖ), as yet. SPÖ Labour Minister Rudolf Hundstorfer did not comment Khol’s appeals either. However, the minister promised to intensify labour market regulations in another regard.

Hundstorfer announced he agreed with ÖVP Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner about increasing the workforce level of specialised groups investigating tax evasion on the labour market. Such teams were formed in April 2010. Nineteen people were found guilty of various business crimes following the task force’s actions.

The group of experts concentrates on examining whether firms establish networks of subsidiary companies only to avoid taxes and insurance charges. The task force currently focuses on firms operating in Vienna and the Styrian city of Graz. Especially construction sector businesses are under close scrutiny. The team of experts will soon become increasingly active across the country, Hundstorfer said.