Impasse in metalworking

The metalworking industrial collective agreement on working time flexibility, under negotiation since October, 1996, reached an impasse in March 1997 due to divergent positions within the ranks of the employers. The arbitration mechanism agreed in February 1997 is applicable in principle, but will not be invoked.

In 10 sessions over the course of five months, the Metals, Mining and Energy Workers trade union (Gewerkschaft Metall-Bergbau-Energie, GMBE) and eight associations together comprising the metalworking sector within the Bundessektion Industrie of the Austrian Chamber of the Economy (Wirtschaftskammer Österreich, WKÖ) have thrashed out a collective agreement on working time flexibilisation covering 229,000 employees (162,000 waged, 67,000 salaried) in industrial establishments. However, one of the eight associations - Fachverband der Metallwarenindustrie- has been blocking ratification of the deal since mid-March.

The key elements of the proposed agreement are nearly identical with those signed for metalworking craft enterprises in February (AT9702102F), which comes into effect on 1 May:

  • the working day is to be up to nine hours and the normal working week between 32 and 45 hours;
  • for any normal weekly hours over 40 a premium of 25% is to be paid in the form of time off;
  • over a period of 52 weeks, weekly working time is to average 38.5 hours per week;
  • a plant-level agreement can specify a "grace period" of up to three months after the end of the 52 weeks during which amassed time premia can be consumed;
  • the maximum number of amassed premium hours is to be 80 unless a plant-level agreement specifies time off will be consumed in whole weeks, in which case 120 hours are permissible; and
  • any premium hours not used up as time off have to be paid off at a rate of 187% the normal wage.

Fachverband der Metallwarenindustrie opposes especially points two and six of the above list. Its preference would be to pay no premium up to the 45th hour, and a moderate one up to the 50th. There should be no penalty for hours paid instead of compensated by time off.

If signed, the agreement would lead to a loss of some overtime hours with their attendant premia. The GMBE estimates there are on average 40 overtime hours per employee per year.

It would be possible for the GMBE to sign the agreement with the seven associations willing to do so, and to negotiate a separate agreement with the eighth. One problem is that for largely historical reasons it is often the case that not all parts of the same plant are part of the same association. In some cases, it is even true that one part of the plant is covered by the industrial agreement and another by the craft agreement. Therefore these two agreements were always closely matched, and internally each one was kept homogeneous. Further, the GMBE wants to retain equality among workers, and has thus always refused to enter into an agreement with only part of the eight associations.

Theoretically, it would be possible to invoke the new arbitration procedure agreed in February (AT9702102F). However, in doing so the GMBE would give up the prized unity of the industry. The seven associations willing to sign the agreement cannot invoke the arbitration procedure because they are not in disagreement with the GMBE.

The Fachverband der Metallwarenindustrie groups about 750 establishments with about 47,700 employees and gross production worthATS 60 billion in 1995. Employment of waged employees has been declining.

It was intended to bring the collective agreement into force by 1 May, when the amendments to the Working Time Act (Arbeitszeitgesetz, AZG) also come into force. If this does not happen, the autumn 1996 collective agreement will continue unchanged. The changed AZG will permit more stringent action against working time models not fully in line with the law. In all likelihood the GMBE will then make use of this option by mobilising the works councils.

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