Austria: Unions begin drive for reduction in working hours

After decades of vacillation regarding working time reduction, the Austrian unions have put a general statutory reduction of working hours plus a sixth holiday week for all workers on the policy agenda.

In the second quarter of 2015, unions in Austria initiated a major campaign in favour of a general reduction of working hours. The high unemployment rate in Austria is the principal driving force for this move. The general secretary of the Austrian Trade Union Federation (ÖGB), Bernhard Achitz, proposed a general reduction of working time (without pay cuts) and the introduction of a sixth holiday week for all workers. The GPA-djp union started an information and promotion week for their claims, using the tag-line 'working shorter – living more comfortably' ('Kürzer arbeiten – leichter leben!'). The unions argue that it is time to find new solutions after 40 years of stagnation in the field of statutory reduction of working hours. A general reduction of working hours is, from their point of view, both a contribution to economic and labour market policy, as well as a means to improve the quality of work and private life. On 15 June, GPA-djp held a national working time conference with the participation of hundreds of works councils. The three main pillars of this conference were: statutory reduction of working hours, easier access to a sixth holiday week and the reduction of overtime hours. The employer side is strictly opposed to a statutory reduction of working hours. Christoph Leitl, President of the Economic Chamber, argued that economic growth is a matter of having more flexible working time rather than  a general reduction of working hours.

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