Bargaining round in commerce concluded

After difficult negotiations, the social partners in Austria's commerce sector concluded a collective agreement for 2000 in November 1999. The agreed minimum pay increase, at 1.75%, is lower than previously agreed in industrial sectors.

Representatives of the Union of Salaried Employees (Gewerkschaft der Privatangestellten, GPA) and their counterparts in the commerce section of the Chamber of the Economy (Wirtschaftskammer Österreich, WKÖ) concluded a new collective agreement for the commerce sector's 350,000 employees on 18 November 1999. Negotiations turned out to be difficult in this year's bargaining round, as substantial differences between the bargaining parties became evident. As a consequence, negotiations were interrupted for several times due to disputes over various issues. The union's demand for minimum salary increases was 2.8%, whereas WKÖ's commerce section offered only 0.8%. A moderate settlement was finally concluded against the background of a favourable economic trend in commerce. This provides for an rise of 1.75% in minimum salaries and apprentices' remuneration - considerably lower than the increases previously agreed in the bargaining round in industrial sectors (AT9911203N). Furthermore, it was agreed that existing "overpayments" (Überzahlungen) of employees will be maintained. This means that the new agreement does not affect payments above collectively agreed salary rates, granted by employers to attract qualified personnel. Such clauses are common in Austria, given that such overpayments are individually negotiated.

GPA's long-standing demand to introduce obligatory rules for reimbursement of travel expenditure has now been met, with employers obliged to compensate employees according to collectively agreed regulations. Until now, collective agreements in commerce contained recommendations for payments, but no binding rules. Lower compensation for travel expenditure will no longer be possible by 1 January 2000, when the collective agreement comes into effect. Additionally, existing higher travel compensation must be maintained. This issue was a main goal for the union in this year's bargaining round, as tax authorities had announced that these payments would be taxed in 2000.

WKÖ representatives had initially demanded the abolition of extra payments. It wanted bonuses for both Sunday work and normal working hours in evenings and on Saturdays - introduced in exchange for further working time flexibility in 1997 - to be abolished. However, this demand was sharply rejected by GPA, which feared a large-scale deterioration of working standards for commerce employees and a further extension of working hours, especially on Sundays (AT9911204N). GPA strictly opposes any further flexibility of working hours in commerce, apart from work on Sundays and public holidays for economic and social reasons, compensated by extra payment. Surveys indicate that no additional profits have been gained due to the longer trading hours that have been introduced in recent years, and pressure on commerce employees has risen, as employment has declined by about 3% from January 1997 to January 1999. Full-time jobs tend to be replaced by low-paid part-time employees (currently 25% of the workforce) and "minimally employed" workers (9%) - ie those with very few working hours - who are not fully covered by social insurance. In this latter respect, the Austrian social partners' Advisory Board for Economic and Social Affairs (Beirat für Wirtschafts- und Sozialfragen) has emphasised the threat of a further erosion of the Austrian social security system.

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