More flexibility in Sunday working

Amendments to Austria's Leisure Time Act, approved in March 1997, include a clause allowing the social partners to agree Sunday working for individual establishments, if this is necessary in order to attract or to retain jobs.

On 19 March 1997, Parliament passed a reform of the Arbeitszeitgesetz(AZG, Working Time Act) - see Record AT9702102F. This necessitated minor changes to the Arbeitsruhegesetz(ARG, Leisure Time Act) which were also passed on 19 March. However, the parliamentary Labour and Social Affairs Committee, at the behest of the social partners, had introduced wording allowing more flexibility than hitherto in regard to Sunday work, causing a major public debate in its wake. In future it will be possible for the social partners to conclude collective agreements permitting exceptions from the general ban on Sunday work. They can only do so, the law states, if it is necessary in order to avoid economic disadvantage or to safeguard employment. As far as this is feasible, the collective agreement has to specify the activities to be permissible on Sundays and the time allowed for them. Until now it was not possible to grant specific exemptions from the ban on Sunday work except if the technology required continuous production. The Minister of Labour and Social Affairs could, however, permit a whole industry to work on Sundays.

According to a survey by the Central Statistical Office, over half a million people regularly worked on Sundays in 1995 (14% of the labour force). Of these, about 28% were in agriculture, 15% in hotels and restaurants, and 11% in health services. Another 430,000 people sometimes work on Sundays. About 25% of all employees work regularly on Saturday.

Immediately after the new law was passed, a paper manufacturer announced that a collective agreement had been made on its behalf. The social partners involved were the Bundessektion Industrie (Federal Section - Industry) of the Wirtschaftskammer Österreich (WKÖ, Austrian Chamber of the Economy) and the Gewerkschaft der Chemiearbeiter (Chemical Workers' Trade Union). On the basis of this collective agreement, a plant-level agreement was made specifying the precise details. The plant is owned by a transnational enterprise and has a turnover of about ATS 2,000 million. During the last two years it has been highly profitable. It is located in a region south of Vienna that has had to take severe economic blows in recent years. The agreement covers the production of napkins and handkerchiefs, which employs about 100 of the plant's 800 workers. From 1 May 1997, these employees will work a five-shift cycle, reducing working time from 38 to 36 hours per week and adding 13 days off per year. In addition, an across-the-board pay raise of 3.75% was agreed. Together with Sunday pay premia of 100%, the trade union's secretary and the chair of the works council estimate that between ATS 3,000 and ATS 6,000 per month will be added to workers' incomes before tax. The agreement is initially for half a year. Other parts of the same plant producing the basic tissue had worked on Sundays since 1970 for technological reasons, and some parts of the downstream production had done so since 1988 and 1993, respectively. There was a clear demand from workers in the napkins division to move to a five-shift, seven days per week cycle.

The deal is part of a strategy by management and the works council to make this particular establishment fit to be the enterprise's international centre of excellence for high-value paper products such as napkins and handkerchiefs. It is also expected to boost employment.

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