Wage and salary earners remain unequal

The social partners in Austria have been unable to agree on harmonised conditions of employment for the country's wage earners and salary earners. This failure to agree has prevented the government and parliament from enacting proposed legislation in June 1999, as scheduled. However, the trade unions have declared that they will keep the issue alive.

On 15 June 1999, the Austrian government failed to approve a legislative proposal for submission to parliament that would have removed the remaining legal differentiation between wage earners and salary earners (AT9801160N). The two main distinctions that remain between them relate to compensation during sick leave and regulations governing dismissal (AT9903138N). The Austrian Trade Union Federation (Österreichischer Gewerkschaftsbund, ÖGB) and the Austrian Chamber of the Economy (Wirtschaftskammer Österreich, WKÖ) had failed to resolve their own differences on the question at a meeting on 9 June. WKÖ had submitted a number of counter-demands in exchange for harmonisation, including:

  • holiday entitlements to be made proportional to the length of employment over the year (AT9905144F);
  • the moving of some holidays to weekends;
  • compulsory leisure-time accident insurance; and
  • the scrapping of the paid weekly job-search day for departing employees, in cases where the employee leaves employment on her or his own initiative.

All these changes, which would have required legislation, were rejected by ÖGB. The unions accepted that there would be a price to pay for harmonisation, but insisted on purely monetary compensation, mainly through reduced employer contributions to the Insolvency Default Fund (Insolvenzausfallfonds, IAF). However, WKÖ rejected this proposal because, as a result of the IAF's recent surplus, there is now in any case a legal obligation to reduce the contributions. The IAF pays wages and salaries after bankruptcies.

The two parties in government, the Social Democrats and People's Party, are bound by their 1995 coalition agreement to carry out harmonisation before the current parliament's term expires in October 1999. However, it is now extremely unlikely that the government will achieve its objective.

. There are about 1.3 million wage earners on annual average, 43% of total employment. Of these roughly 20% are not citizens of the European Union, and only one-third are women. The conditions of about 150,000 wage earners in the metalworking sector were harmonised with those of salary earners in October 1998 by collective agreement (AT9810107F).

Harmonisation is ÖGB's top priority. On 23 June, a public relations campaign was due to be launched, with the issue to form part of the Social Democrats' election campaign. Other activities in support of the demand were neither announced nor ruled out.

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