Austria: Developments in working life – Q1 2016
The results of a competence check of refugees, several labour law reforms and moderate wage increases are the main topics of interest in this article. This country update reports on the latest developments in working life in Austria in the first quarter of 2016.
Competence check of refugees
In January 2016, the Austrian Public Employment Service (AMS) published the results of a competence check of refugees who had been granted asylum in Austria. The data showed higher than expected educational levels among refugees from most countries with the exception of Afghanistan. The publication of the data received extensive criticism as the results were not representative: participation in the competence check was voluntary, and only people who showed specific interest took part.
Amid the debate on the integration of refugees, there was also discussion about social assistance for refugees settling in Austria. In Upper Austria, the regional right-wing government introduced a motion to reduce the means-tested minimum income for refugees only. The minimum income scheme currently serves as social assistance for all residents of Austria. The issue is currently under discussion in the regional parliament, but legal experts have already stated that such a reduction would probably be illegal, based on the principle of equality.
Changes in labour law
Several changes in labour law came into effect at the beginning of 2016, including:
- improvements to all-inclusive employment contracts;
- improved rights to information about full-time positions for part-time workers;
- a legal requirement for written payslips and registration with social security;
- the extension of the working day to 12 hours when active travel time is included;
- the entitlement to parental leave for same-sex parents;
- an income tax reform that means lower tax bills for the vast majority of employees in Austria.
At the government's pension summit in late February, several reforms were agreed, including:
- a bonus for people who work beyond the legal retirement age;
- an increase in the minimum pension for people who have paid at least 30 years of social insurance contributions;
- improvements to the labour market reintegration of people who are temporarily incapable of working.
Moderate wage increases in collectively agreed pay
The first quarter of 2016 saw collective wage agreements renewed in various sectors, including the private health and social care sector (which has some 100,000 employees), information technology (IT), finance and several industrial sectors. On average, moderate wage increases of around 1.5% were agreed, which continued the trend of the last quarter of 2015. Conflicts occurred in the IT and finance sectors, in which agreements could be reached only after protests, and in the private rehabilitation and spa sector, where negotiations were broken off totally.
Creation of a low-wage sector suggested
The labour market situation has not improved since the previous quarter, with record high unemployment levels due to declining economic growth in Austria. In the face of such high levels of unemployment, the former director of an influential research institution and think-tank proposed the creation of a low-wage sector (‘1€ jobs’). This suggestion immediately met with fierce criticism from labour organisations.
Meanwhile, a study from the same institution has revealed that, particularly in the IT, hotel and hospitality sectors, there is no truth to the claim, often put forward by employers in recent years, that there is a shortage of skilled employees. The study analysed individual working time preferences using data from Statistics Austria and concluded that the creation of 50,000 full-time jobs would be possible.
The latest wave of the Austrian Work Climate Index shows that one-third of all employees working on 'all-in' employment contracts (inclusive of overtime, which is compensated by the overall wage) work in their leisure time, when on holidays or on sick leave.