Industrial relations

Austria: Latest developments in working life Q4 2019

The work programme of the federal government and the social partners’ reactions to it, as well as outcomes of the influential metalworkers' autumn collective bargaining rounds are the main topics of interest in this article. This country update reports on the latest developments in working life in Austria in the fourth quarter of 2019.

Mixed reactions to new federal government programme

Following general elections on 29 September after the premature collapse of the former government and a vote of no-confidence in parliament, a coalition government between the conservative ÖVP (which won 37.5% of the vote) and the Green Party (which won 13.9% of the vote) was formed in early 2020 – the first time the Green Party has participated in government at the federal level in Austria.

The two coalition partners, who have widely differing views, emphasised that their programme would not include ‘minimal compromises,’ but flagship projects of both parties. [1] The Green Party has achieved several goals in environmental and climate policy, as well as on increased transparency and information rights. The ÖVP, on the other hand, achieved its goals on immigration and security policies.

The social partners demonstrated differing reactions to the newly presented programme. Organised business – the Federal Economic Chamber (WKO) and the Federation of Austrian Industry (IV) – showed approval, emphasising the noticeable tax reliefs and their appreciation of bringing together economy and ecology. [2] Trade unions welcomed the government’s commitment to the social partnership system, which had been largely side-lined in the former coalition government in power from late 2017 until mid-2019. Nonetheless, the Austrian Trade Union Federation (ÖGB) and Chamber of Labour (AK) have criticised the fact that the interests of employees are not centre stage in the government’s programme, and measures negative to employees that had been put in place by the previous government (such as the increase of maximum working hours to 12 hours a day or 60 hours a week) had not been overturned. [3]

Minimum wage of €2,000 in metalworking

As every year, the annual collective bargaining round was started in the influential metalworking sector. The negotiating unions, the Union of Private Sector Employees, Printing, Journalism and Paper (GPA-djp) on behalf of white-collar workers and the Austrian Industrial Manufacturing Union (PRO-GE Gewerkschaft) on behalf of blue-collar workers demanded a wage increase of 4.5% for the 130,000 employees in the industry, with the employer Association of Metaltechnology (FMTI) prepared to offer only 1.8%. In the fifth round, following 11 hours of negotiations, an increase in actual and minimum wages of between 2.6% and 2.8% was agreed upon. The collectively agreed minimum wage was raised from €1,915 to €2,000 and has, according to PRO-GE's chair Rainier Wimmer, an enormous socio-political signal effect. Costs of the conclusion for businesses are estimated at €180 million, according to FMTI's chair Christian Knill, whose association has around 1,200 members. Improvements reached in the framework conditions include the possibility to convert anniversary bonuses into paid time off for employees from April 2020. [4] Following an agreement in the metalworking sector (the largest sector in Austria), identical agreements were made in the remaining five subsectors, which until 2011 formed a bargaining community with the FMTI. In further collective agreements negotiated in the autumn period, somewhat lower increases were reached.

Outlook

It will be interesting to observe how the cooperation between the two federal coalition partners with very little similarity in their stances will pan out and whether the announcement of involving the social partners in policy-making again will in fact be implemented. In any case, it remains to be seen if the relationship between the social partners, which had deteriorated lately, will improve as well and mutual trust can be restored.

 


Footnotes

  1. ^ Die neue Volkspartei/Die Grünen – die Grüne Alternative (2020), Aus Verantwortung für Österreich. Regierungsprogramm 2020-2024 .
  2. ^ IV (2020), Industrie begrüßt Einigung auf Regierungsbildung , 2 January and WKO (2020); Wegweiser für erfolgreiches Wirtschaften: WKÖ-Spitze begrüßt Regierungsprogramm , 7 January.
  3. ^ AK (2020), AK Gerechtigkeitscheck des Koalitionsabkommens von ÖVP und Grüne , 8 January; ÖGB (2020), Türkis-grüne Regierungsverhandlungen abgeschlossen , 2 January; and PRO-GE (2020), Ersteinschätzung des neuen Regierungsprogramms , 3 January.
  4. ^ Kurier (2019), Metaller-KV: Der Abschluss im Detail , 29 October.

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