CHAMBERS OF LABOUR
|CHAMBERS OF LABOUR
Term denoting the system of Chambers for both manual workers and white-collar workers (Kammern für Arbeiter und Angestellte) which, as the structure provided under public law for the representation of employees' interests, constitutes the other element of their representation in Austria alongside the trade unions.
By European standards, the Chambers are a unique institution. In no other EU Member State is there a legally established body representing employees' interests, with obligatory membership, which covers the whole of national territory. In Austria, they constitute an additional resource by means of which advisory and other services and in particular expertise in matters of economic and social policy are made available in a manner which complements the interest representation function of the unions and increases its effectiveness. Created as a counterpart to the Economic Chambers (representing business) under the Arbeiterkammergesetz (Chambers of Labour Act) of 1920, which regulates their structure and functions, their constituency encompasses all employees with the exception of executive staff and most of the public service (although it includes postal and railways employees), and membership is obligatory for all employees who fall within that constituency.
In 1997, just under 88% of all employees were members of a Chamber. There is a Chamber for each of the nine federal Länder, and the system is headed by the Bundesarbeitskammer (Federal Chamber of Labour), referred to as BAK, which is responsible for matters extending beyond the boundaries of the individual Länder. The Chambers are charged by law with the task of representing employees' interests, which includes both interest representation in dealings with the public authorities and consultation on government regulatory functions, and are invested with the capacity to conclude collective agreements. They also provide advisory services and a wide range of other services both to their members and to works councils, and their Institute for Retraining (Berufsförderungsinstitut, referred to as BFI) is one of Austria's largest further training institutions (financed by obligatory employee contributions deducted from pay).
The Chambers of Labour, and in particular BAK, belong to the exclusive circle of major associations (“social partners”) which take part in Austria's system of social partnership, representing employees' interests within it in conjunction with ÖGB (the Austrian Trade Union Federation). Historically, the formation of the Chambers in 1920 had its origin in the struggles of the trade union movement, and in accordance with this tradition there is close co-operation between them and the ÖGB in this function of representation. The Chambers leave collective bargaining to the ÖGB and operate mainly as a source of expertise both for the ÖGB and for the government authorities in matters relating to employees' interests. This close co-operation with the ÖGB is based on the fact that the various political factions within the latter nominate lists of candidates for Chamber of Labour elections. This results in numerous instances of multiple office-holding not only between the Chambers and the ÖGB but also between the Chambers and the political parties, because of the links between the latter and the ÖGB factions. Consequently, the Chambers of Labour are also represented in Parliament and in some cases in the Government. Nationally, the strongest political faction in the Chambers is formed by the social democratic faction (union group within the Austrian Social Democratic Party).
In addition, they see themselves as the mouthpiece of consumers and provide advisory services and interest representation for this group also.