Social partner involvement in the 2002 NAP

This feature examines social partner involvement in Austria's 2002 National Action Plan (NAP) for employment. It is one of a set of similar features for all the EU Member States, written in response to a questionnaire.

This feature outlines how Austrian social partner organisations have been involved in Austria's 2002 National Action Plan (NAP) on employment. Under the European employment strategy, each year the EU Member States draw up NAPs in response to the annual Employment Guidelines.

Similar features on social partner involvement in the 2002 NAPs have been drawn up by the European Industrial Relations Observatory (EIRO) national centres in all the EU Member States, in response to a questionnaire. Details on the background to this exercise, and the questionnaire used, can be found at TN0206102F. Readers are advised to refer to the questionnaire in conjunction with this feature.

Procedural aspects

As in recent years, the government consulted the social partners - ie the Austrian Trade Union Federation (Österreichischer Gewerkschaftsbund, ÖGB), the Chamber of the Economy (Wirtschaftskammer Österreichs, WKÖ), the Chamber of Labour (Arbeiterkammer, AK) and the Federation of Austrian Industry (Österreichische Industriellenvereinigung, IV) - on the preparation of the 2002 NAP. The contribution of the social partners is based on voluntary participation.

Like the 2001 NAP, whose introductory chapter referred to the past success of jointly introduced measures and policies, the 2002 NAP points out the long and successful tradition of involvement of the social partners, which is even required by law in some areas. It is important to note, however, that the social partners' 'corporatist' participation in social policy-making has been significantly curtailed (AT0109201F) since the formation of the coalition government of the populist Freedom Party (Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs, FPÖ) and the conservative People's Party (Österreichische Volkspartei, ÖVP) in February 2000 (AT0002212F). This development has hit organised labour (ie the unions and Chambers of Labour) harder than its employer counterparts, since the latter can still rely on their political links with the ÖVP. Overall, the social partners are increasingly confined to their role as partners in negotiating collective agreements. Under these circumstances, the extent of the involvement of organised labour in the development of the 2002 NAP was essentially reduced to a rather low level .

All organisations consulted submitted their views on a draft version of the 2002 NAP. While the employers' associations expressed their satisfaction with the information provided and the reaction time allowed by government, representatives of organised labour would have preferred to be consulted earlier in the process of drawing up the 2002 NAP. ÖGB states that since the FPÖ/ÖVP government came to office in 2000, representatives of labour have been consulted only in written form and there have been no subsequent negotiations on any NAP. As in 2001, the 2002 NAP is not a joint text but was drawn up by government alone and was not resubmitted to the social partners after being completed. Moreover, a WKÖ representative pointed out that – in contrast to the previous NAP – the social partners did not contribute a chapter to the 2002 NAP.

Matters of policy content

The 2002 Employment Guidelines call (in objective D) for a 'comprehensive partnership with the social partners for the implementation, monitoring and follow-up of the employment strategy'. In line with the principles of Austrian social partnership, trade unions and employers' associations are still involved in most areas of public policy. In the area of employment and labour market policy, the social partners play a decisive role, which is most institutionalised in the Labour Market Service (Arbeitsmarktservice, AMS). However, as mentioned above, recent conflicts between the conservative/populist coalition government and the trade unions have overshadowed the former climate of cooperation. Thus, rather than the development of a comprehensive partnership with the social partners over the NAP, the opposite trend is becoming increasingly evident.

With regard to the social partners' assessment of the policy content of the NAP and the government's employment policy, the employers' organisations generally see the present government's policy in a very positive light. By contrast, organised labour is harshly critical of the current employment policy of the FPÖ/ÖVP government, because it takes into account neither organised labour's proposals for an 'anti-cyclical' economic and budgetary policy nor its demand for active labour market policies to tackle the problem of rising unemployment. Moreover, ÖGB representatives blame the government for the increasing number of unemployed people and criticise it for extending the possibility of employing seasonal workers to all enterprises - they could formerly be employed only in tourism and agriculture (AT0109128N).

Bargaining

The 2002 Employment Guidelines promote collective bargaining in the areas of:

  • improving the quality of work and employment (in general);
  • modernising work organisation (guideline 13);
  • lifelong learning in the context of competence and skill development in enterprises (guideline 15);
  • 'active ageing' (guideline 3);
  • strengthening equal opportunities for men and women (tackling the gender pay gap, desegregating the labour market, reconciling work and family/private life etc) (guidelines 16,17 and 18); and
  • social integration by way of better access to the labour market for groups and individuals at risk or at a disadvantage, such as people from ethnic minorities, migrant workers, long-term unemployed people and people with disabilities (guideline 7).

It should be noted that in Austria there are no formalised links between the NAP and the collective agreements negotiated by the social partners. This is because the NAP is fixed at the central level of public policy-making (ie the level of the federal state), whereas there are no central-level agreements between the social partners that might be linked to, and synchronised with, the NAP. In contrast to the NAP, collective bargaining is conducted at sectoral level, without central-level guidelines issued for bargaining rounds by the peak associations of trade unions and employers' organisations.

However, a number of innovative collective agreements have been concluded in line with the NAP's goals, since the 2002 Employment Guidelines were sent to the Member States at the end of November 2001.

The conclusion of Austria's first ever collective agreement for temporary agency workers in January 2002 was a successful attempt to improve the quality of work and employment. The agreement sets minimum wages for almost 27,000 workers - mainly male workers in metalworking - even when not hired out to a user company. The new collective agreement specifies a minimum wage that is applicable even if the worker is not actually hired out (AT0202202N).

In 2001-2, several collective agreements were concluded which related to the modernisation of work and employment (guideline 13), in that they extended the coverage of inter-industry collective agreements (Generalkollektivverträge) (AT0112250F) on working time flexibility to a wider range of branches. Since November 2001, for instance, the collective agreement covering Telekom Austria employees contains a clause which enables employers to redistribute working time more flexibly over the year.

Concerning the issue of lifelong learning in the context of competence and skill development in enterprises (guideline 15), some sectors have introduced a collectively agreed entitlement to one week's training leave (eg the mineral oil sector and all telecommunications enterprises other than Telekom Austria).

As regards the issue of 'active ageing' (guideline 3), Austria's newly introduced statutory provisions on part-time work by older employees (Altersteilzeit) are worth mentioning (AT0110203F). These regulations, in combination with complementary collective agreements, have boosted the incidence of such part-time work schemes, which attract both older workers and their employers.

In the field of gender policy, the recent collective agreement for the employees of Austria's savings banks for the first time explicitly lays down the aim of improving the reconciliation of work and family/private life. In this context, the savings banks are now obliged actively to contribute to the objective of equal treatment and equal opportunities form men and women in their enterprises.

Commentary

In general, the 2002 NAP is an implementation plan rather than an action plan in the genuine sense. It includes and describes a number of policies and measures implemented or adopted in 2001. The drafting of the 2002 NAP followed more or less the same formal practice as in previous years, under which the social partners were included in all areas of the NAP. However, the real extent of their involvement in the process of preparing and drafting the NAP declined in 2002 as the former climate of cooperation has been overshadowed by ongoing conflicts, in particular between the government and organised labour.

Concerning the involvement of the social partners in the 2002 NAP, one must differentiate between labour representative organisations on the one hand and employers' associations on the other. While labour representatives believe that their participatory role was cut back to an absolute minimum by the government, employers were more satisfied with their role in the preparation of the NAP. Organisations representing employees state that the government did not attempt to develop a comprehensive partnership with organised labour. The only (statutorily required) field of cooperation is the AMS labour market service. (Susanne Pernicka, University of Vienna)

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