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Many different retirement regimes for workers in arduous or hazardous jobs in Europe – but common problems

During the first week of September, a new Study was presented in Brussels, which sheds a light on the wide range of pension systems for workers in arduous or hazardous jobs in Europe. In particular, the fact that great efforts have been made over the past years to increase the retirement age, let particularly these workers face special problems.

In the countries, which were reviewed, retirement regimes for workers in arduous or hazardous jobs include a wide range of jobs from increased physical demand to a hazardous working environment – from Spanish matadors to miners or steel workers across Europe. Depending on the individual country, this group comprises 1 to 4 % of the working population resp. 5 to 8 % of all pensioners. However, one might assume that the number of people affected by arduous or hazardous jobs is much higher.

Recently, the majority of European Countries have introduced reforms aiming at reducing benefits for the retirement of workers in arduous or hazardous jobs, thereby prolonging their working lives. In this context, eligibility requirements were raised, rates of contribution were increased and rules were limited to fewer occupations. As several trade unionists pointed out during the event, these are neoliberal austerity measures at the expense of these, in any case particularly burdened, employees.

That is why in many countries, workers in arduous or hazardous jobs are receiving low pensions – often below the average pension level. This led to the fact that many have to postpone their retirement or have to supplement their pension with a working income. This is also the direction adopted in Austria by making deductions in case of workers in arduous or hazardous jobs taking early retirement. Women are not yet affected as they, once they completed their 60th year, are entitled to their old-age pension without deduction. Aggravating this situation: In hardly any country has the more difficult access to pensions for workers in arduous or hazardous jobs been accompanied by measures, which would have made a prolonged working lifetime possible in the first place: for example, an active labour market policy, which provides growth and jobs, and measures, which provide health and safety at the workplace.

Therefore, from the point of view of the AK, access to pensions for workers in arduous or hazardous jobs should not be made any more difficult. In particular, one must not forget that the life expectancy of those workers is significantly lower than the average of the general population and that they are far more frequently suffering from health problems. Therefore, in the AK's opinion, further cuts for these workers have to be rejected.

This demonstrates once again the significance of a good statutory pension system – also in particular for this group of employees. As a discussion event hosted by AK EUROPA has shown: the comparison between pension systems in Germany and Austria ensures that only the statutory pension is able to sustainably guarantee a living standard above poverty in old age. Germany has departed from the primary objective to ensure the living standard on the basis of the statutory pension; she has made an attempt to supplement this so-called first pillar by a voluntary occupational (second pillar) and a private pension (third pillar). As a consequence, over 40 % of future pensioners in Germany are at risk of suffering old-age poverty.

Hence, approaches as those of the European Commission concerning a Europe-wide, individual capital accumulated pension product (Pan-European Personal Pension Product, PEPP), which clearly aims at strengthening individual private pensions, have to be taken with a pinch of salt. Above all, such products should have a supplementary and not a replacing effect.

In fact, looking at the realities of today’s working world shows that it is difficult for many professions even now to reach retirement age in good health and without deductions. In many industries, age-appropriate jobs, in particular for workers in arduous or hazardous jobs do either not exist or are not even possible. The Schwarzbuch Rente mit 70 [Black Book Pension at 70] of the German Trade Union Confederation (DGB) gets to the heart of this problem in more than forty impressive portraits. The AK EUROPA Office has copies available, which we gladly give to (the first) people who would like to know more. Should you be interested, please send an email, subject “Schwarzbuch Rente” to office@akeuropa.eu.

Further information:

Study Retirement regimes for workers in arduous or hazardous jobs in Europe

AK EUROPA: Perspectives on pensions – The Austrian and German pensions systems compared

Study Old Age Security in Germany and Austria: learning from ones neighbour?

AK EUROPA: Private pensions – a dubious new model at European level

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