The court is attempting to clarify an earlier ruling that all pension benefits should be equalised, a decision that has prompted the Government to move towards unifying the retirement age.
The Luxembourg-based judges have been asked whether this ruling, made in May 1990, is retrospective. If so, employers would have to top up contributions to men's pensions before that date to ensure that they could retire at 60 and enjoy the same benefits as women.
But yesterday, the Advocate- General, Walter Van Gerven, whose opinions are usually followed by the European Court, said that benefits need only be equal after May 1990. So men in work before then are unlikely to receive any sudden windfalls.
Lawyers said his opinion would be welcomed by British industry, which is likely to be spared the pounds 50bn cost of ensuring that men receive the same benefits as women. The opinion will also be welcomed by women among the 10,000 employees of the home furnishings company, Coloroll, which brought the case after going into receivership, lawyers said. As Coloroll's pension fund contains a finite sum, benefits received by women would decrease if those earned by men increased.Reuse content