Trade unions reorganise
The restructuring of the Austrian Trade Union Federation is beginning to take shape in January 1998. Closer, formal cooperation between some member unions has been agreed and merger talks are being held. The final aim is the creation of only three trade unions.
At the 1995 congress of the Austrian Trade Union Federation (Österreichischer Gewerkschaftsbund, ÖGB) its member trade unions decided to reorganise. The goal is to reduce the number of individual trade unions from 14 to three, covering manufacturing, services, and public service. There is no clear time-limit for the process. In the first two years little was achieved by way of obvious results, but 1998 promises to bring the first of these. On 21 January 1998 two trade unions, the Union of Printing and Paper Workers (Gewerkschaft Druck und Papier) and the Union of Posts and Telecommunications Employees (Gewerkschaft der Post- und Fernmeldebediensteten) concluded a cooperation agreement. They are forming a jointly and proportionately financed platform to decide policy measures and a joint steering committee with proportional representation. The rationale is the unions' shared activity in the media sector. By 2000, they want to unite their offices in one location. A full merger in the future is not ruled out, neither is it explicitly planned. According to press reports, the ÖGB's president commented that a merger might have been the result if the ÖGB could have taken decisions like a joint stock company.
The Arts, Media and Free Professions Trade Union (Gewerkschaft Kunst, Medien, freie Berufe, KMfB) has a Journalists Section. Within the section there is a strong group that wants to join the new media platform. The journalists' nine-member federal board was up for election on 23 January 1998, and all seats went to the media platform group, since the traditional factions did not field candidates.
An often repeated prospect for 1998 is that the sizeable Union of Metal, Mining and Energy Workers (Gewerkschaft Metall, Bergbau, Energie, GMBE) will either absorb the small Union of Textiles Garments and Leather Workers (Gewerkschaft Textil, Bekleidung, Leder) or enter into close cooperation with it. Talks are also underway between the Union of Trade, Shipping and Transport Workers (Gewerkschaft Handel, Transport, Verkehr, HTV) and the Union of Railway Employees (Gewerkschaft der Eisenbahner). The HTV, at one point, was also in preliminary talks with the Union of Hotel Restaurant and Personal Services Workers (Gewerkschaft Hotel, Gastgewerbe, Persönlicher Dienst, HGPD).
Further, the Union of Salaried Employees (Gewerkschaft der Privatangestellten, GPA), already the largest - and in its make-up the most controversial - trade union, is in talks with a whole range of other unions over closer cooperation. The new initiative by the ÖGB to remove the remaining legal distinctions between wage earners and salary earners (AT9801160N) should partly be seen in this light. The erosion of this distinction is a prerequisite for the formation of the three new trade unions, since it would remove the main obstacle for easing the Industry Section out of the GPA. Generally the GPA's non-industry sections are seen as the core of a future service sector trade union, and the GMBE as the core of the manufacturing sector trade union.