Rise in real wages in retail sector

In Austria's retail sector, some 500,000 white-collar employees will be covered by a new, innovative collective agreement. The agreement, valid for two years, sets a minimum wage increase of 2.55% for 2014; in 2015, wages will increase in line with the Consumer Price Index plus an additional 0.4%. The gross monthly minimum wage will reach €1,500 in 2015, which corresponds to unions' demand for a cross-sectoral minimum wage. The agreement gives employees a clear wage perspective.

Background

In Austria’s retail sector, more than half a million white-collar employees, mostly women, will be covered by a new, innovative two-year collective agreement concluded between the social partners on 13 November 2013.

The agreement guarantees a gross monthly minimum wage of €1,450 for full-time workers from 1 January 2014. On 1 January 2015, this will rise to €1,500, reaching the minimum threshold that the Austrian Trade Union Federation’s (ÖGB) long campaigned for. In addition, annual wage increases were also agreed for two years. In 2014, the minimum wage for those earning less than €1,850 will increase by 2.55%, and by 2.5% for those earning more than €1,850.

In 2015, the minimum wage will increase in line with the Consumer Price Index plus an additional 0.4%, giving retail workers a rise in real wages.

New employees and apprentices benefit most

The agreement was reached after only three rounds of negotiations between the Union of Salaried Employees, Graphical Workers and Journalists (GPA-djp) and the commerce section of the Federal Economic Chamber (WKO). The wage agreement in the metalworking sector (AT1311011I), which was concluded only two weeks before and establishes wage increases of between 2.5% and 3.2%, served as a model.

However, retail sector wages traditionally fall below those in the metal industry, which is one of the most highly paid sectors in the country. Similarly, in the commerce sector, wages are seldom well above the minimum wage.

Career entrants and apprentices will benefit most from the new agreement. Wages for apprentices will be increased in the first year of their apprenticeships by €14 a month, in the second year by €20, and in the third by €30. In their fourth and final year, their wages will rise by €26.

A two-year agreement, valid for 2014 and 2015, is new for this sector. This is not, however, likely to be repeated in other sectors since the practice of negotiating agreements for 12 months keeps negotiations in line with fast-changing economic realities.

Blue-collar workers get separate agreement

A separate collective agreement was concluded for the 120,000 blue-collar workers in the sector on 4 December by the vida union and the WKO’s commerce section. It is valid from 1 January 2014 for one year. The agreed increase of 2.58% is slightly higher than that for white-collar employees.

In early 2014, the sectoral social partners will hold reform talks to simplify and clarify the wage and wage classification system. Currently, allowances (extra pay) are given for work done after 6.30pm, and the allowances differ for weekdays and weekends. There are regional differences in wages, and separate wage tables for different subsectors. Both blue- and white-collar workers will take part in the reform talks with WKO’s commerce section.

Reactions

Both employers and employees in the industry are generally content with the agreement reached.

Bettina Lorentschitsch, Chair of the WKO’s commerce section, emphasised that the two-year agreement provides planning security for companies and a clear wage perspective for employees. She also commented that the innovative double agreement is a step towards the goal of reaching a fairer distribution of lifetime earnings in the sector.

Franz Georg Brantner, Chair of GPA-djp’s commerce section, is satisfied that a minimum wage of €1,500 will be reached in two stages, and that considerable wage increases have been secured. His colleague, Regional Secretary Edgar Wolf, added that the retail sector has managed to leave the low-wage bracket, at least for its qualified employees.

Bernadette Allinger, FORBA (Working Life Research Centre)

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