Educational leave scheme introduced

From 1 January 1998, Austrian employees will be able to take educational leave for up to 12 months, funded from the budget of the Public Employment Service. It is hoped that the scheme will have a beneficial effect on employment as well as training and education.

From 1 January 1998, a new statutory educational leave scheme will come into effect. Every three years employees will be able to take six to 12 months off and receive benefits equal to those paid during parental leave. In 1997, these stand at a net ATS 185.50 per day or ATS 5,565 per month. An additional 40% of this amount will go to social insurance. The benefits are paid by the Public Employment Service (Arbeitsmarktservice, AMS) which may increase them, if the training or education planned is deemed particularly beneficial. The AMS's main source of income is unemployment insurance contributions. Participants in the scheme will formally remain employed, and the employer's social security contributions will be reimbursed by the AMS.

The Government's original idea was to institute an entitlement for employees to educational leave, but employers' organisations strongly opposed such a right. It will now be up to the employer to agree to educational leave. If the employer refuses to grant leave without good reason, the employee can appeal to the courts.

The issue of educational leave arose as part of the pension reform package currently under negotiation between the social partners and the Government (AT9707118F). One of the main aims of the reform is to raise the effective age of retirement, and by implication the labour force over 55 years will increase. Since there is some apprehension over the effects this might have on unemployment and the employment opportunities of younger workers, alternative measures for lowering the effective participation rate were sought. Educational leave features prominently among these measures.

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