Discrimination against immigrants in the workplace

An Austrian study reveals that immigrants feel particularly discriminated against in the workplace when they compare themselves with their Austrian colleagues. In addition, immigrants report that they not only face job insecurity, but also that their working conditions are changed by their employers.

A study undertaken by the SORA Institute for Social Research and Analysis examines forms and factors of workplace discrimination experienced by immigrants. The target group mainly originates from Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Turkey, from where more than 54% of all Austrian immigrants come. Although the study focuses on immigrants living and working in Vienna, the results can be seen as typical for the discrimination of immigrants in the workplace in Austria as a whole.

Subjective perception of discrimination

The survey finds that more than a third of immigrants feel very or rather discriminated against in the workplace. Another 36% state that they are not discriminated against at all. There is no difference between women and men: 34% of female as well as of male immigrants report that they feel discriminated against, and 36% of women and 37% of men do not perceive any discrimination in the workplace.

However, there are differences according to the age of the immigrants. The older they are, the more likely they are to feel (very or rather) discriminated against, and vice versa: the younger they are, the less likely they are to feel discriminated against.

Comparison of immigrants and Austrians

Between 20% and 25% of immigrants state that, compared with their Austrian colleagues, immigrants are discriminated against in specific areas such as pay, workload, appreciation of job performance, treatment by their boss and assignment of unpleasant tasks. Immigrants working in the construction sector, in particular, feel discriminated against with regard to any one of these aspects, compared with Austrians. Nearly 40% of these workers complain about discrimination in pay and workload, and 37% report that they are assigned unpleasant tasks or are not given credit for their efforts.

Immigrants working in the hotel and restaurant sector or in cleaning companies also perceive discrimination when they compare themselves with their Austrian colleagues. Approximately a quarter complain about being discriminated against in each of the areas mentioned.

There is no correlation between the number of immigrants working in one company and the perception of discrimination. However, the size of the company has an influence on the proportion of immigrants stating that they feel discriminated against: the smaller the company, the higher the proportion of immigrants who feel discriminated against is, compared with their Austrian colleagues.

The age of immigrants also has an impact on the perception of discrimination in one of the specific areas outlined above: as already noted, the older the immigrants are, the more likely they are to feel discriminated against, compared with Austrians.

Personal experiences of discrimination in the workplace

Immigrants working in Austria have also experienced different forms of discrimination in their workplace. The figures for job security are striking. More than a third (35%) of immigrants are threatened with job loss when the companies they work for reduce their staff or restructure. The proportion of immigrants who fear becoming unemployed because of EU enlargement in 2004 is also very high, at 30%.

In addition, immigrants are directly or indirectly threatened with dismissal if they become ill and take sick leave (33%), or if they refuse to work overtime (26%). This personal experience of job insecurity means that immigrants are more inclined to accept employers’ infringements of employment law.

Personal experience of discrimination among immigrants in the workplace, Austria (%)
Proportion of immigrants who are affected by different forms of discrimination in their Austrian workplace
  Very and rather affected
Job insecurity (due to reductions in staff, restructuring, etc) 35
Threat of dismissal in case of sick leave 33
Threat of job loss due to EU enlargement 30
Threat of dismissal in case of refusal to work overtime 26
Additional work because colleagues are missing due to reductions in staff or restructuring 17
Involuntary changes in working time prescribed by employer 16
Unpaid overtime 12
Salary is not paid or paid late 6

Source: SORA Institute for Social Research and Analysis, Vienna, 2003

As well as their fear of job loss, immigrants also state that their working conditions are changed. Some 16% of immigrants report that their employer changed their working hours even though they did not want this new work schedule; 17% perform additional work that was previously done by colleagues who have since been dismissed. Moreover, 12% of immigrants work unpaid overtime, and 6% complain that their salary is paid late or not paid at all.

The study reveals that immigrants not only feel discriminated against, but also experience different forms of discrimination in the workplace. They feel particularly discriminated against when they compare their working conditions with that of Austrians.


SORA Institute for Social Research and Analysis, Discrimination against immigrants in the workplace: Forms and factors of discrimination , Survey conducted for the European Centre for Social Welfare Policy and Research (Europäisches Zentrum für Wohlfahrtspolitik und Sozialforschung), Vienna, 2003.

Marion Vogt

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