Labour market leader urged to increase pension age

The European Commission (EC) has praised Austria’s employment policies.

The EC said yesterday (Weds) other European Union (EU) member countries should examine the Austrian education and traineeship systems to achieve a turnaround as joblessness keeps climbing across the continent.

Fewer than 322,000 people were unemployed in Austria last month, according to the Federal Labour Market Service (AMS). This was an increase of 6.7 per cent compared to April 2011, according to statisticians. The number of unemployed people attending education courses held at AMS offices all over Austria rose by around seven per cent to nearly 70,000.

AMS chief Johannes Kopf said reducing long-term unemployment would matter the most in the coming months. Details of the statistic released by the AMS reveal that especially handicapped people and the elderly struggle to find work in the country at the moment. Foreigners and poorly-skilled labourers experience immense difficulties as well, according to experts.

The number of people aged 50 and above who had no work rose by more than 10 per cent from April 2011 to April 2012. At the same time, experts found a 4.5 per cent rise of joblessness among residents of Austria aged between 15 and 24.

These developments will not strip Austria of its labour market role model reputation. Eurostat, the EC’s statistics office, said Austria had the lowest unemployment rate in March with just 4.2 per cent. Eurostat – which did not yet reveal figures for April, said the Netherlands (4.9 per cent) did second-best in fighting joblessness among all EU members in March. Luxembourg had an unemployment rate of 5.2 per cent, according to Eurostat reports.

The Austrian Social Democrats (SPÖ) recently approached their government coalition partner, the People’s Party (ÖVP) to discuss a possible reduction of the average working week. The left-wing party of Chancellor Werner Faymann and Labour Minister Rudolf Hundstorfer thinks that such a measure might help lowering unemployment in Austria. Hundstorfer claimed that especially elderly people would benefit.

The labour minister also expressed confidence regarding a possible rise of the average pension age – if the ÖVP gives the go-ahead to the working week reform. Austrian law says men must work until 65. Women are obliged to work until they reached the age of 57.5. The EC criticised in its analysis of Austria’s fiscal and economic strategy yesterday that men quit at an average age of 62.6 instead. Female employees and workers retire at the age of 59.4 in Austria at the moment, according to investigations by the EC.

EC officials – who also labelled the number of Austrian women doing part-time as too high – called on the SPÖ-ÖVP coalition to show more ambition in increasing the retirement age. This appeal comes shortly after Christian Keuschnigg, the new head of the Institute for Advanced Studies (IHS), claimed that such a measure would not cause an unbearable amount of pressure on the country’s social systems. He added that the different generations would manage to handle the various effects.