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Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Justice In Action: Should Prison Work Count Towards Pension Benefits in Austria?

A Grand Chamber hearing today will receive a complaint from an Austrian convicted criminal that the exemption of prison work from affiliation to the old-age pension system is discriminatory.

The complainant Ernst Stummer also claims that it deprives him of receiving pension benefits.

The hearing will be broadcast from 2.30 p.m. on the Court’s Internet site (http://www.echr.coe.int/).



Background

Stummer v. Austria (Application no. 37452/02)


The European Court of Human Rights is holding a Grand Chamber hearing today Wednesday 3 November 2010 at 9.15 a.m. in this case.

The applicant, Ernst Stummer, is an Austrian national who was born in 1938 and lives in Vienna. The case concerns his non-affiliation to the old-age pension system for work performed as a prisoner and his consequent inability to receive pension benefits under this scheme.

Mr Stummer spent lengthy periods of his life in prison. His application for an early retirement pension was dismissed by the Workers’ Pension Insurance Office (Pensionsversicherungsanstalt der Arbeiter) in March 1999, which noted that he had failed to acquire the minimum of 240 insurance months required for pension eligibility under domestic social law. He subsequently brought an action against the Pension Insurance Office, submitting that he had been working in prison for 28 years and that the number of months worked during that time should be counted as insurance months for the purpose of assessing his pension rights.

In April 2001, the labour and social court dismissed the claim. His appeal was dismissed by the Vienna Court of Appeal in October 2001, which held in particular that it was not for the courts but for the legislator to decide whether or not to change the provisions relating to the social insurance of prisoners. In February 2002, the Supreme Court (Oberster Gerichtshof) dismissed his appeal.

After his release from prison in January 2004, Mr Stummer received unemployment benefits for a few months and has afterwards received emergency relief payments (15.77 euros per day in 2007).

Mr Stummer complains that the exemption of prison work from affiliation to the old-age pension system is discriminatory and deprives him of receiving pension benefits. He relies on Article 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights (prohibition of slavery and forced labour) and, in substance, also on Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination) and Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 (protection of property), submitting that the distinction between work performed during detention and work while at liberty was objectively unjustified.

Procedure

The application was lodged with the European Court of Human Rights on 14 October 2002 and declared admissible on 11 October 2007. On 18 March 2010 the Chamber relinquished jurisdiction in favour of the Grand Chamber.

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