New bill entitles employees to care leave with benefits

New measures to help employees combine work commitments with the care of relatives were agreed by Austria’s Council of Ministers on 4 June 2013. The bill allows employees, if they have their employer’s consent, to take full nursing care leave for up to three months, or to reduce their hours and work a minimum 10 hours part-time alongside their care duties. They will be able to claim benefit similar to unemployment benefit. The bill has received a mixed response from the social partners.

New bill passed

On 4 June 2013, two new measures intended to help reconcile work and family life for employees with relatives needing care were agreed upon by Austria’s Council of Ministers following extensive preparatory work by the social partners. The measures, which make it possible for workers to reduce working time or take leave to care for a relative, will be implemented on 1 January 2014.

Nursing leave

The new bill makes it possible for employees who want to care for a relative to take nursing care leave for a period of between one and three months, and to claim an income-dependent leave benefit in line with unemployment benefit, 55% of the individual’s former income up to a maximum of €1,400.

Long-term care allowances are paid on a seven-level scale according the severity of the condition that makes care necessary. They are granted for individuals suffering from a physical, mental or psychological disability or lack of a sensory faculty such that they require constant nursing and assistance. The allowance ranges between €154.20 and €1,655.80 a month.

Employees looking after people who qualify for long-term care allowance at level three or above are eligible for the new leave and benefit. However, if they care for ill or disabled children or a relative suffering from dementia, they will be eligible for leave and benefit if they receive long-term care allowance at any level.

The employer must consent to an employee taking nursing leave. When one employee has taken the maximum three-months’ leave, a second relative of the person being cared for may begin nursing leave. When the condition of someone needing care deteriorates sufficiently to change the level of care allowance that they qualify for, then a relative who has already had one period of care leave may re-apply for a second.

This newly introduced benefit will come into effect from January 2014. Its terms will also now apply to family hospice leave, introduced in 2002 to allow employees to spend time with dying relatives or seriously ill children. Previously, employees taking hospice leave did not qualify for any financial benefit.

Caring and part-time work

When an employee chooses to combine caring with part-time work, working hours may be reduced to a minimum of ten hours a week. A benefit equivalent to the amount of unemployment benefit an individual would be entitled to is granted, calculated pro rata for the hours not worked. Again, the employer’s consent to a reduction of hours is needed, a second relative may seek an agreement to reduce hours and combine caring with part-time work, and any relative who has already had such an agreement may reapply if the condition of the person they are caring for deteriorates.

The Federal Social Office (Bundessozialamt) will be responsible for administering both the application and the execution of caring leave, caring and part-time work and family hospice so that relatives have only to deal with one point of contact. While on leave or undertaking part-time work, health and pension insurance entitlements remain intact so that the employee will not be disadvantaged.

Reactions of the social partners

In their government programme (in German), the Social Democratic Party (SPÖ) and the People’s Party (ÖVP) delegated the preparation of measures for nursing leave and part-time work for care duties to the social partners. While the programme proposed a legal entitlement to part-time work for nursing care, this was not incorporated into the bill due to opposition from the employers’ side.

Employees’ representatives have said they want the current draft bill amended to include the possibility of regulating nursing leave and nursing part-time work in works agreements.

The ministers involved in the development of the measures, Rudolf Hundstorfer, Minister of Labour, Social Affairs and Consumer Protection (BMASK), and Reinhold Mitterlehner, Minister for Economy, Family and Youth (BMWFJ), said they were satisfied that the bill will improve the work-life balance of those caring for relatives.

The two opposition parties generally welcome the initiative. Norbert Hofer, a Member of Parliament for the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ) and its spokesperson on disability issues, has said that the measures bring relief for those caring for relatives.

Karl Öllinger, the Green Party spokesperson for social affairs, criticised the lack of a legal entitlement to part-time work for nursing care.

Bernadette Allinger, FORBA (Working Life Research Centre)

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