FPÖ protests against pension age project

The Freedom Party (FPÖ) has attacked the People’s Party (ÖVP) over its plan to increase the pension age in the coming years.

ÖVP Vice Chancellor Michael Spindelegger announced yesterday (Thurs) his party aimed at raising the actual pension age by four years by 2020. He said a bonus system should ensure that people worked longer.

Spindelegger said men and women willing to stay in their jobs longer than they had to had to get significantly more than those opting for retirement ahead of the regular pension age. Men employed in Austria may quit at 65 while women must work until 60 except cases of serious sickness. Statistics show that the actual average pension age of Austrian men is 58.9 years while women stop working at the age of 57.7.

FPÖ General Secretary Harald Kickl said today the government coalition of Spindelegger’s party and Werner Faymann’s Social Democrats (SPÖ) should focus on fighting unemployment instead of discussing how people could be forced to work longer.

Kickl pointed out that especially elderly people struggled to find a job. Around 360,500 residents of Austria were unemployed last month. This figure meant a decline of 0.8 per cent compared to the same month in 2010. Economists expect Austria’s jobless rate to edge up in the coming months. At the same time, the number of employed people is set to climb.

Labour Market Service (AMS) chief Johannes Kopf admitted that several detailed results of the latest unemployment statistics indicated the need to improve. Experts are worried by the rising unemployment rate among women (plus 4.1 per cent) and in Vienna (plus 4.8 per cent). They also warned that the increasing popularity of part-time work agreements might drag women closer to poverty. Figures show that 44 per cent of employed women work part-time. While some of them appreciate the possibility to earn money and have enough time for their kids, others struggle in finding full-time positions.

Labour market experts stressed that Austria would have been hit with an increase in unemployment last month had the mild weather not enabled building companies to keep operating. A lack of snow in the country’s east allowed a continuation of most construction projects at full scale.

Kickl’s latest attack on the SPÖ-ÖVP coalition considering employment aspects follows criticism by his party about the education and training courses organised by the AMS in association with the labour ministry of the SPÖ’s Rudolf Hundstorfer. The FPÖ claimed the education initiative for jobless people was ineffective and expensive. Hundstorfer defended the project. The labour minister said it had turned out to be of great help to people trying to find a job.

Hundstorfer recently announced that the government might reactivate the short-time labour programme if the economic crisis worsened. Under the internationally acclaimed procedure, the government compensated companies for some of their losses when turnover tumbled in 2009 and 2010. The firms abstained from laying off staff in return. Tens of thousands of industrial labourers were put into short-time instead.

The labour minister’s plans to reintroduce the short-time subsidies programme might be scuppered by the government’s urge to make cuts. His ministry is not expecting a budget increase in the foreseeable future as the coalition is determined to lower the state debt. ÖVP Finance Minister Maria Fekter pointed out in a recent interview that the debts of Austria were rising by over one million Euros per hour at the moment.