Stalemate in negotiations in tourism sector

Despite the Prime Minister's intervention, the positions of the social partners in the Austrian tourism sector remain irreconcilable in February 1998. At issue are not only wage rates but also lifetime incomes, working hours and a growing deficit that the industry is causing the national unemployment insurance system.

The social partners in the tourism sector succeeded in signing a national collective agreement on salaries but not on wages for the 12 months from 1 May 1997 (AT9706120N). Instead, four wage agreements were concluded at provincial level (Vienna, Lower Austria, Upper Austria, Vorarlberg) by early July, after which the negotiating process came to a halt. The impasse, in a sector that is of great importance for Austria's balance of payments, has begun to concern the Government. On 10 February 1998, the Prime Minister himself convened the social partners to try to sort out the issues and to press for a solution.

The situation is highly complex (AT9705111F). It is clear that a new collective agreement needs to address the growing deficit - up from ATS 2,522 million in 1993 to ATS 2,902 million in 1997 - that the tourism sector causes in the national unemployment insurance system every year. The solution is formally to spread working hours over a larger part of the year. The Union of Hotel, Restaurant and Personal Services Workers (Gewerkschaft Hotel, Gastgewerbe, Persönlicher Dienst, HGPD) has suggested converting the overtime worked during peak periods into post-season paid leave. The trade union, perhaps optimistically, argues that, on the basis of two seasons, formal annual employment time would actually rise from nine to 11 months. Any loss of net income in the process would need to be compensated, since both wage rates and annual incomes in the industry are on average among the lowest in Austria.

Adequate compensation is one of the HGPD's long standing demands. For several years now, it has been trying on achieve the creation of a severance and vacation fund modeled on that in another highly seasonal industry, construction. It is a hallmark of seasonal employment that employees frequently change employer between seasons, which makes it difficult to conclude collective agreements or to enact laws that place the obligation to pay vacation or severance entitlements on any particular employer. If there were a fund, all employers in the industry would pay into it in proportion to the number of employees on their payroll, and all vacation and severance entitlements would be paid from the fund. In this way, many of the seasonally employed would for the first time ever receive a paid vacation and would start to accumulate an entitlement to severance pay.

The tourism association in the Austrian Chamber of the Economy (Wirtschaftskammer Österreich, WKÖ) has made it clear that it is vigorously opposed to the fund, arguing that it would cost employers billions of ATS. It also argues that a conversion of overtime would only help to even out hours towards the end of the season, but would not lengthen the formal employment period. The employers are instead asking for more flexible hours - that is, longer working days during the peak season.

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