Austria: Self-employed workers

  • Observatory: EurWORK
  • Topic:
  • Published on: 22 Febbraio 2009


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In Austria, there are two statutory employment relationships that come close to the concept of ‘self-employed workers’, i.e. the so-called ‘freelance contractors’ and the ‘new self-employed’. Employers tend to use these formally self-employed but in fact economically dependent workers mainly in order to save on labour costs. The workers concerned are not covered by labour law and only insufficiently protected against social risks. Therefore the government, in accordance with the social partners, plans to partially extend the country’s social security system to self-employed workers.

1. Legal provisions and social security

Please provide the definition of self-employed workers which is applicable in your country.

There is no uniform and clear-cut legal definition of ‘self-employed workers’ in Austria. Rather, there are several distinct forms of employment relationships which come close to the concept of ‘self-employed workers’ as set out in the questionnaire.

Apart from the ‘traditional’ forms of self-employment as listed in §22 of the Income Tax Act 1988 (Einkommensteuergesetz, EStG), the Austrian legislator has introduced two additional statutory employment relationships which come close to the suggested concept of ‘self-employed workers’. The first one is the so-called ‘free service contract’ (Freier Dienstvertrag), a term which was introduced into Austrian law in 1997. The 1997 Labour Law and General Social Insurance Amendment Act (Arbeits- und Sozialrechts-Änderungsgesetz, ASRÄG), which aimed to extend social insurance coverage to all self-employed people, was the first Austrian law that included a definition of a ‘free service contract’ and hence extended the coverage of the term ‘contract of employment’ (Arbeitsvertrag). The ‘free service contract’ is a somewhat hybrid legal construction mid-way between a ‘standard’ employment relationship on the one hand and actual self-employment on the other (for more details see section 1.2 below).

The second employment relationship that comes even closer to the concept of ‘self-employed workers’ is manifested by the so-called ‘new self-employed’ worker (Neue Selbstständige), i.e. holders of a ‘contract for work’ (Werkvertrag) without a trade licence (Gewerbeschein).

It is a common feature of both of these categories of ‘atypical’ workers that they do not employ other people and mostly work for only one (main) client.In reality, their working situation largely resembles that of ‘dependent’ employees (AT0701049I), although they are – at least in certain respects – legally treated as self-employed workers.

Apart from these ‘atypical’ workers, there are also some ‘traditional’ self-employed persons (i.e. ‘one-person companies’) holding a trade licence which can be assigned to the category of ‘economically dependent self-employed workers’, since they are – like the two before-mentioned groups of workers – also often contracted for the sole purpose of saving on social insurance contributions and bypassing labour law commitments. The incidence of ‘bogus’ or ‘spurious’ self-employment should also be noted, where a worker may claim to be self-employed in order to avoid tax or social security contributions but is actually a dependent employee according to Austrian law.

Briefly indicate the main differences, if any, in the social security regime of self-employed workers with no employees compared with: a) employees; b) self-employed with employees.

‘Free service contract’ workers

Workers on these contracts are insured under the terms of the General Social Insurance Act (Allgemeines Sozialversicherungsgesetz, ASVG), which applies to all employees, and thus are covered by health, industrial injuries and pension insurance but excluded from unemployment insurance.However, they are not eligible for sickness benefits and any severance pay.Nevertheless, forthcoming new legislation envisaged by the government is likely to include them in the unemployment insurance system as well as other social protection systems which apply to ‘standard’ employees (see section 5). Although holders of ‘free service contracts’ (who are also referred to as ‘freelance contractors’) are – in terms of social security – treated as employees, they are, in matters related to taxes (i.e. tax declarations), dealt with as self-employed and must submit tax returns in accordance with rules applying to self-employed persons. The hybrid character of their employment relationship is also manifested in the fact that ‘freelance contractors’ provide an ongoing service, even though often on a fixed-term basis, and are in fact often completely dependent on their quasi-employer, while they are, formally, not subject to the instruction of the client and free to schedule their working time. Working materials, in general, have to be made available to these workers by the client (AT0309201N). Labour law provisions generally do not apply to them.

‘New self-employed’

This category of ‘self-employed workers’ includes holders of a ‘contract for work’ without a trade licence and freelance workers in some liberal professions (e.g. psychologists, psychotherapists, lecturers and trainers, etc.). They are dealt with in accordance with all other self-employed persons and therefore insured under the terms of the Social Insurance Act on Self-Employed Persons (Gewerbliches Sozialversicherungsgesetz, GSVG), covering insurance against the risks of sickness (without granting sickness benefits), industrial injuries and old age (AT0205201N). In contrast to ‘free service contract’ workers, they are obliged to fulfil a certain, well-defined task rather than to perform an ongoing service. Moreover, the work obligation may be sub-contracted to and thus fulfilled by a ‘third’ person, and need not be fulfilled personally by the contractor. ‘New self-employed’ persons have to provide their own entrepreneurial infrastructure (i.e. working materials, workplace, etc.). As self-employed persons, they are not covered by labour law. Notably, they are only insured under the terms of the GSVG if their annual income exceeds the threshold of currently €6,453.36 (in the case of any other parallel employment relationship which constitutes statutory social insurance the threshold is €3,881.52) or they voluntarily opt into the GSVG insurance coverage. The main difference dividing ‘new self-employed’ from dependent employees is the constituent fact of the former’s formal personal independence (from an employer). However, despite their formal ‘self-employment-like’ nature of work, most researchers as well as organised labour representatives consider both ‘freelance contractors’ and ‘new self-employed’ persons to be ‘economically dependent self-employed workers’. This is because the increasing incidence of these ‘atypical’ forms of work is broadly perceived as a result of a chronic shortfall of ‘regular’ jobs, ensuing from a widespread business strategy to replace ‘standard’ with ‘non-standard’ employment relationships. This means that an indefinite number of formally self-employed persons are only ‘spuriously’ self-employed and de facto economically dependent on one (main) client (i.e. quasi-employer).

‘One-person companies’

These are ‘traditional’ self-employed persons who possess a trade licence. Interestingly, pertinent literature also considers some of these ‘entrepreneurs’ to be ‘economically dependent self-employed workers’, as a number of companies have begun to contract traditional ‘one-person companies’ for certain ongoing services instead of ‘standard’ employees or ‘freelance contractors’, in particular in the private adult education sector. This is mainly to save on administrative and non-wage labour costs and, in particular, to avoid ‘bogus’ self-employed people to initiate proceedings against the quasi-employer for grounds of denying regular employment relationships, which is not feasible for ‘real’ self-employed persons holding a trade licence. ‘Traditional’ self-employed persons with a trade licence are obliged to be members of the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber (Wirtschaftskammer Österreich, WKÖ).

There is no difference in the social security regime of genuine self-employed persons with no employees and self-employed persons with employees. With regard to employees, they are all insured under the terms of the ASVG. Demarcation problems may emerge especially with respect to ‘free service contract’ workers (see above).

Please indicate the existence of any particular legal forms of employment which cover contractual relationships which are commonly regarded to be mid-way between dependent employment and self-employment (if necessary, see for a longer discussion of the concept the EIRO comparative study ‘Economically dependent workers', employment law and industrial relations’).

In particular ‘free service contract’ workers, but to some extent also ‘new self-employed’ and even some traditional ‘one-person companies’ are commonly regarded to be mid-way between dependent employment and self-employment.

whether they are commonly considered as economically dependent employment;

Yes, with respect to all ‘freelance contractors’, and also with respect to ‘new’ and ‘traditional’ self-employed persons as far as their working conditions essentially resemble those of dependent employees. However, there are considerable differences in the perception of ‘economic dependence’ between organised labour and business.

specify the main features of such forms of employment and whether they enjoy specific social security regime and, if relevant, the basic features of such special regime (please refer this illustration to the answer given to question 1.2 above).

See 1.2 above.

indicate any rules which generally apply to this kind of employment as for: a) working time and vacation; b) maternity and parental leave; c) sick pay and leave for sickness

‘Free service contract’ workers: the number of weekly working hours is laid down by contract, but the ‘freelance contractor’ is generally free to schedule his/her own working time; no right to paid vacation; coverage of statutory maternity leave during the statutory protection period includes ‘freelance contractors’, and the right to a certain amount of statutory maternity pay (Wochengeld) is laid down by law; no right to parental leave, but eligibility to receive childcare benefit (Kindergeld) (AT0304201N) for parents of small children provided that the annual gross income of the beneficiary does not exceed €14,600 (in 2007); no right to sickness benefits in case of illness, no special leave for sickness (to be amended, see section 5).

‘New self-employed’ and ‘one-person companies’: no rules on working time; no right to paid vacation; self-employed women in agriculture, trade and industry who are covered by health insurance are – under certain circumstances – eligible to receive maternity pay or maternity allowance (Betriebshilfe) to pay a substitute during the period of maternity leave; no right to parental leave, but eligibility to receive childcare benefit for parents of small children provided that the annual gross income of the beneficiary does not exceed €14,600 (in 2007); no right to sickness benefits in case of illness (however, there is a possibility to opt for an additional GSVG health insurance package which provides for sickness benefits in case of illness), no special leave for sickness.

2. Recent trends in self-employment with no employees

Please provide data on recent trends in self-employment (since 2000):

Unfortunately, there are no (comparable) data available from before 2004. However, Statistics Austria (Statistik Austria) published data beginning from the year 2004. Therefore we can provide data from 2004 and compare them with 2006.

Data provided by Statistics Austria always encompass self-employed people who have a trade licence as well as those with a ‘contract for work’. Additionally, data include self-employed persons without employees working in agriculture and forestry. ‘Freelance contractors’ are not included.

In 2004, 477,500 people were self-employed in Austria (Table 1). The share of self-employed persons without employees amounted to 56% in 2004. While the number of self-employed persons decreased slightly between 2004 and 2006 (to 473,300), the share of those self-employed who do not employ any workers increased by 2 percentage points to 58%.

Table 1. Recent trends in self-employment (2004, 2006)
  2004 2006
Men Women Total Men Women Total
  x 1,000 x 1,000 % x 1,000 x 1,000 x 1,000 % x 1,000
Self-employed (no.) 304.0 173.5 36.3 477.5 308.0 165.3 34.9 473.3
Self-employed with no employees (no.) 161.7 106.7 39.8 268.4 162.9 114.2 41.2 277.1

Source: Statistik Austria/Statistics Austria 2006, Statistik Austria/Statistics Austria 2007, own calculations

In 2004 as well as in 2006, more men than women were self-employed (i.e. 304,000 compared with 173,500 and 308,000 compared with 165,300, respectively). This is also the case for self-employed persons without employees (161,700 compared with 106,700 and 162,900 compared with 114,200, respectively). Interestingly, the share of female self-employed decreased from 36.3% to 34.9% during the period 2004 to 2006, while the share of self-employed women without employees increased from 39.8% to 41.2%. This implies that more women had their own ‘one-woman company’ in 2006 than in 2004.

Please report, according to available research and studies,

the distribution of self-employment without employees across sectors and occupations;

Unfortunately, available data do not differentiate between self-employed persons with and without employees with regard to sectors and occupations. Thus we cannot provide nationwide data on self-employment without employees across sectors and occupations.

However, there is a quantitative survey on self-employed persons without employees conducted by Schubert and Keck (2006), which provides information on this specific issue. 337 people were interviewed for the survey; 84% of them hold a trade licence,, 18% are ‘new self-employed’ or holders of a ‘free service contract’ and around 5% belong to the category of traditional liberal professions (klassische freie Berufe), such as lawyers, physicians or architects (multiple answers were possible, such that the percentages add up to more than 100%).

The study found out that nearly 90% of all interviewed self-employed persons without employees work in the services sector, around 11% in trade and only 5.5% in the production sector (again, multiple answers were possible, such that the percentages add up to 106.5%).

Another survey (Fink et al. 2005) also reveals data on sectors and occupations. It focuses on the so-called ‘new self-employed’ persons (see section 1.2). Unfortunately, the survey also includes answers of self-employed persons with employees, which make up 19% of the sample. As it provides some additional insights into the specific situation of self-employment in Austria, we decided to refer to this special survey. More than 19% of the interviewees work either in ‘real estate activities’ (according to NACE 70) or ‘activities of households as employers’ (according to NACE 97). Another ca. 17% are engaged in ‘health and social work’ activities (according to NACE 85) and 13% in ‘other service activities’ (according to NACE 94-96).

whether self-employment without employees has either increased or decreased significantly in recent years (since 2000) in specific:

Sectors and activities.

Unfortunately, available data do not differentiate between self-employed persons with and without employees with regard to sectors and activities. Thus, we cannot provide the required information.

The above-mentioned survey by Schubert and Keck (2006) also provides some information on the field of activity of self-employed without employees. Nearly 15% offer computer-related services, such as network administration, and another 15% are (management) consultants. 12% work in training and coaching, and nearly 8% offer services in the field of personnel consultancy and human resource development. Only very few (1% or 2%) are engaged in activities such as photography, accounting, therapy, event management, architecture or translation. Thus, the field of activity is diverse, which shows that many interviewees of this survey carry out work requiring many different types of skills and qualifications.

This result is corroborated by Fink et al. (2005): 62% of all respondents in this study carry out qualified or highly qualified work, as, for example, historians, psychologists, sports scientists, biologists, architects and physicians.

Occupations (International Standard Classification of Occupations – ISCO 88, at one digit).

Unfortunately, with respect to occupations available data do not differentiate between self-employed persons with and without employees. Thus we cannot provide the required information. For some information please see question 2b on sectors and activities.

and in specific groups of workers defined by:

Gender (men/women).

Please see above question 2.1.

Age groups (younger/older; 14-24, 25-54, 55-64; 65 and over).

Regarding age groups, most self-employed persons without employees are between 25 and 54 years ,in both 2004 (218,100) and 2006 (220,200) (Table 2). The number of self-employed without employees in the 55-64 age bracket increased slightly (from 36,400 to 39,500) from 2004 to 2006.

Table 2. Self-employed without employees by age, 2004 and 2006
  2004 2006
  x 1,000 % x 1,000 %
14-24 -* - -* -
25-54 218.1 81.3 220.2 79.5
55-64 36.4 13.6 39.5 14.3
65 -* - 11.4 4.1
Sum 264.5 98.5 271.1 97.8
Total 268.4 100 277.1 100

Source: Statistik Austria/Statistics Austria 2006, Statistik Austria/Statistics Austria 2007, own calculations

* Numbers smaller that 3,000 persons cannot be interpreted statistically.

The most striking fact is that the number of self-employed persons who are older than 64 could not be displayed in 2004, as their number was smaller than 3,000. However, in 2006, there were already 11,400 self-employed persons over 64.

Nationality (nationals/foreign nationals).

As the data in Table 3 refer to citizenship, it is not possible to state how many Austrian nationals are migrants who have taken Austrian citizenship. However, most self-employed without employees have Austrian nationality by birth or have taken Austrian citizenship. Their share amounts to more than 94% in 2004 and slightly decreased to 92.4% in 2006.

Table 3: Self-employed without employees by nationality, 2004 and 2006
  2004 2006
  x 1,000 % x 1,000 %
Austrians 253.5 94.4 256.0 92.4
Non-Austrians 14.9 5.6 21.0 7.6

Source: Statistik Austria 2006/Statistics Austria, Statistik Austria/Statistics Austria 2007, own calculations

Only a small share of self-employed persons without employees have not (yet) taken Austrian citizenship. In 2004, only 15,000 self-employed persons without employees were non-Austrians. Strikingly, within two years their number increased by almost 50%, to 21,000, even though their share only increased by two percentage points from 2004 to 2006.

Other relevant dimensions to be specified.

Based on existing research and studies, please provide any available data on the diffusion and recent trends of:

All legal forms of employment indicated in section 1.3 above (contractual relationships mid-way between dependent employment and self-employment and economically dependent employment), specifying whether they concentrate in any sectors and/or occupations.

We cannot provide data on the diffusion of either ‘free service contract’ workers or ‘new self-employed’ by sectors or occupations. The numbers of ‘freelance contractors’ and ‘new self-employed’ persons amounted to 59,800 (2006) and 46,300 (2004), respectively (see Table 4). Interestingly and in contrast to self-employed persons without employees (see also Table 1), more women (35,300) than men (24,500) belong to the special group of ‘freelance contractors’ in the Austrian labour market.

Table 4: ‘Atypical’ workers, 2004 and 2006, in 1,000
  Men Women Total
Free service contract workers (2006) 24.5 35.3 59.8
New self-employed (2004) 28.9 17.4 46.3

Source: Statistik Austria/Statistics Austria 2007, Pernicka 2007

‘Bogus self-employment’, i.e. formal self-employment which is fraudulently used to disguise contractual relationships which should be properly registered as dependent employment, in order to avoid the protections and costs (both wage and social contributions) connected with the latter, specifying whether it concentrates in any sectors and/or occupations.

There are no data available on the phenomenon of ‘bogus self-employment’ that refers to self-employed without employees only. However, the survey on ‘new self-employed’ (Fink et al. 2005), which encompasses 81% self-employed people without employees, revealed that the thesis that most ‘new self-employed’ persons are ‘spuriously’ self-employed (scheinselbständig), i.e. working for one client only is not applicable. 65% of all respondents have more than one client, whereas 38% are working for more than five different clients. However, 35% of the interviewees could be seen to be close to spurious self-employment as their professions are, for example, kitchen help, waiter/waitress, personal secretary or financial accountant. If some qualitative aspects are taken into account, the survey concludes that about 10% to 20% of the people interviewed were spuriously self-employed. These findings, however, somewhat contrast with the results of other studies and surveys, which suggest that an indefinable but supposedly significantly higher share of ‘freelance contractors’ and ‘new self-employed’ persons can be classified as spuriously self-employed, at least is some branches of the economy (e.g. the private adult education sector, call centres, etc.) (see ÖGB, AK 2003; Wimmer 2004, Pernicka et al 2007). These alternative studies usually take into account not only the personal and economic dependence from one (main) client but also other indicators (indicating a relationship of actual, not formal subordination to the quasi-employer/s) as criteria for examining actual dependence.

3. Collective representation and collective bargaining

NCs are requested to indicate the main collective representation organisations of employed workers with no employees or of the workers with the special contractual relationships illustrated above in section 1.3. In particular, they should provide information on:

The type of associations (trade associations or trade unions).

Membership of the WKÖ is mandatory for all self-employed persons with a trade licence, including ‘one-person companies’. Thus the WKÖ organises and represents the interests also of this latter group.

‘Free service contract’ workers and ‘new self-employed’ workers (i.e. those self-employed without a trade licence) are, in principle, organised by the Austrian Trade Union Federation (Österreichischer Gewerkschaftsbund, ÖGB) and, in particular, by its largest affiliate, the Union of Salaried Employees, Graphical Workers and Journalists (Gewerkschaft der Privatangestellten – Druck, Journalismus, Papier, GPA-DJP). To some extent these groups of ‘atypical’ workers are also represented by the Chamber of Labour (Arbeiterkammer, AK).

The associational domains of each of such associations: territorial, sectoral, occupational, professional, etc.

The WKÖ’s associational domain encompasses almost all companies, including ‘one-person companies’, running a business on a permanent basis in the national territory of Austria, given that a formal operating licence (Gewerbeberechtigung) entitles them to do so. Only companies in a small number of sectors, such as in the media, private training and social and health services sectors, are exempted from obligatory WKÖ membership.

The membership domain of the ÖGB encompasses all employees, unemployed, retired and persons having the characteristics of an employee (Arbeitnehmerähnliche Personen) working (or having worked) in Austria. The GPA-DJP claims to organise and represent all ‘atypical’ employees, including ‘new self-employed’ and ‘freelance contractors’, working in Austria, irrespective of the sector of the economy. For this purpose the union has set up a special section called interest grouping (Interessengemeinschaft) work@flex (IG work@flex). This is a representation structure supplementing the union’s existing sectoral groupings, created to pursue the special interests of dependent self-employed people (Pernicka 2006).

Membership and membership rates.

In 2006, the WKÖ organised 183,297 ‘one-person companies’ holding a trade licence, of which only a small minority are supposed to be ‘economically dependent self-employed workers’. Due to compulsory membership of the WKÖ, density is 100%.

So far, only a few hundred of ‘new self-employed’ and ‘freelance contractors’ have joined the IG work@flex within the GPA-DJP, such that density of the union with regard to the group of dependent self-employed workers is estimated to be not higher than 1% or 2% in maximum.

Any forms of social dialogue or collective bargaining these associations engage in, specifying:

The levels at which such activities take place (national, sectoral, territorial, company).

There is some social dialogue on the issue of minimum standards in terms of pay and working conditions of dependent self-employed workers in certain sectors, such as the print media sector and the adult education sector. Company-level talks have been conducted at the Austrian Broadcasting Company (Österreichischer Rundfunk, ORF). Apart from this, organised labour has launched an initiative to redefine and modernise the present concept of ‘employee’, by making the existence of economic dependence the only criterion for classifying people as employees, regardless of working time, workplace and nature of work. Accordingly, labour law would be extended to cover ‘self-employed workers’. However, this initiative has proved unsuccessful thus far.

The actors they engage in these activities with (public authorities, employers associations, single employers).At national level: ÖGB, AK and to some extent WKÖAt sectoral level: GPA-DJP and the Arts, Media, Sports and Liberal Professions Union (Gewerkschaft Kunst, Medien, Sport, Freie Berufe, KMSfB) on the employees’ side and sectoral sub-units of the WKÖ as well as a voluntary employers’ organisation in the print media sector, i.e. the Austrian Newspapers’ Association (Verband Österreichischer Zeitungen, VÖZ), on the employers’ side. At company level: KMSfB and the ORFThe topics typically covered by these activities.

With regard to ‘permanent freelance staff’(ständige freie Mitarbeiter) in the print media sector, in 1999, a collective agreement was concluded for freelance journalists of daily newspapers by the journalism section of the KMSfB and the VÖZ. This is the first ever and – thus far – only collective agreement for a certain form of ‘freelance contractors’, i.e. the ‘permanent freelance’ journalists. This agreement contains regulations on pay schemes and extra remuneration, provisions on copyright and procedures regarding the termination of the employment relationship, as well as rules on the partial extension of the works council’s representational domain to freelance staff. A similar agreement setting minimum pay standards for journalists of monthly journals and magazines was achieved for the first time in 2005 (Blaschke et al 2007).

Regarding freelance journalists at the ORF, the KMSfB (through works councillors organised by the union) and the ORF management concluded a works agreement which grants the freelance staff rights (in terms of labour law and do-determination) that come close to those of ‘standard’ employees.

In the private adult education and training sector, which is one of the rare business areas in Austria that do not fall within the representational domain of the WKÖ, a first ever collective agreement was concluded in February 2005 by a voluntary employer association and two unions, i.e. the then white-collar GPA and the then blue-collar Commerce, Transport and Traffic Workers’ Union (Gewerkschaft Handel, Transport, Verkehr, HTV, now vida). Interestingly, the agreement contains a clause whereby the bargaining parties commit themselves to continuing negotiations in order to improve the economic and social situation of self-employed workers in the sector, who are not covered by the agreement. Such a clause explicitly addressed to formally self-employed workers is – apart from the media sector – unique in Austria’s tradition of collective bargaining. However, at the moment it seems to be unlikely for both political and legal reasons that a follow-up agreement covering the sector’s freelance workers will be reached in the medium term (AT0510202F).

In the call centre industry, where around 30% of all call centre agents are thought to be ‘free-service contract’ workers (which is unlawful in many cases), social partner talks were initiated between WKÖ and GPA-DJP in 2006. These talks, aimed at achieving legal certainty regarding the sector’s employment relationships for both employers and employees, were opened after the GPA had begun to initiate proceedings on behalf of call centre agents against some employers who were suspected of intentionally bypassing labour law. Specifically, the social partners are planning to jointly set up a regulatory framework, providing a clear-cut demarcation between ‘standard’ employees and ‘free-service contract’ workers. From GPA’s point of view, binding regulations on working hours and payment for atypical workers should also be established. GPA aims to release call centres from the general trade collective agreement and to negotiate a specific industry agreement for call centres, which would include regulations on the use of ‘free service contracts’. Employers’ reactions to this initiative have been somewhat mixed. In August 2006, some employers organised themselves within WKÖ in response to the GPA initiative and prepared for collective bargaining; however, others threatened to relocate some 10,000 jobs from their enterprises to other countries if the sector is brought closer into line with standard, more expensive, employment relationships. They argue that increased labour costs would reduce their competitive position. This debate remains unresolved (AT0609039I).

Apart from these arrangements and debates, no other relevant social partner activities in the field of interest have been reported.

The typical outcomes of such activities (joint documents and declarations, guidelines, agreements, etc.)

See above.

A brief description of the content of some (two or three) of the main and most recent of such documents.

See above.

4. Employment and working conditions

Wage levels, of self-employed workers without employees compared with the national average.

Unfortunately, published data reports do not differentiate between self-employed with and without employees in terms of wage level. However, one survey (Schubert and Keck 2006) reports on data on the income situation of this specific group of self-employed workers.

While not revealing respondents’ exact level of income, the survey by Schubert and Keck (2006) asks interviewees whether they consider their income to be sufficient to earn a living. Nearly 60% of the respondents state that their income is sufficient, although this means that more than 40% regard their income as insufficient to earn a living.

Table 5. Income and working time, 2006, in %
Weekly working hours < 20 21-40 41-60 >60
Definitely sufficient 6.4 23.0 21.3 23.2
More or less sufficient 17.0 25.0 29.2 28.6
Not really sufficient 61.7 44.6 42.1 44.6
Not at all sufficient 14.9 7.4 7.3 3.6
Total 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0

Source: Schubert/Keck 2006, own calculations

Naturally, there is a correlation between sufficient financial funds and working time (see Table 5). More than three-quarters of people who work less than 20 hours a week do not consider their income as sufficient. Conversely, most self-employed who work more than 40 hours weekly think that their income is satisfactory. However, it is alarming that more than 40% of self-employed workers without employees who work either between 41 and 60 hours or more than 60 hours a week indicate that they do not earn enough to make a living.

The incidence of low-paid jobs (that is, according to the OECD definition, jobs which pay less than two-third of the median wage) among self-employed workers without employees compared with the national average.

Not available. For similar information please see section 4.1.

Working hours, of self-employed workers without employees compared with the national average:

Average hours actually worked per week.

Data on average hours worked per week are not available. However, we can provide data on the average hours actually worked per year.

In 2006, self-employed persons without employees worked 2,307 hours a year (see Table 6). Compared to the national average, this labour market group works significantly longer hours. The average number of hours actually worked a year in Austria is 1,811. Thus, there is a difference of about 500 hours between self-employed workers without employees and the national average.

Table 6. Average hours actually worked per year, 2006
  Self-employed without employees National average
  Women Men Total Women Men Total
Hours 1,982.2 2,535.0 2,307.2 1,548.9 2,020.4 1,811.0

Source: Statistik Austria/Statistics Austria 2007

This is also true when looked at from a gender perspective. Self-employed workers without employees work on average 430 hours more (women) and 490 hours more (men) than the national average.

Diffusion of long working hours (more than 10 hours a day).

We cannot provide nationwide data on the diffusion of long working hours. However, the above-mentioned survey by Schubert and Keck (2006) found that most interviewees work between 41 and 60 hours a week (42% of both women and men). The share of self-employed women who work between 21 and 40 hours a week is higher than that of men (37.3% and 32.2%, respectively). At the same time, more men (16%) report that they work more than 60 hours a week than women (10%) (Schubert/Keck 2006).

Diffusion of work at unsocial hours (night, weekend).

Table 7 shows that it is very common for self-employed without employees to work in the evening, on Saturdays and on Sundays. Nearly 60% state that they work in the evening and on Sundays and nearly 80% work on Saturdays. Additionally, another 30% of self-employed persons without employees usually work during the night.

Table 7. Specials forms of working hours, 2006*
  Self-employed without employees National average
  In 1,000 In % In 1,000 In %
Evening work 160.1 57.8 1,339.4 34.1
Night work 81.1 29.3 777.2 19.8
Saturday 213.7 77.1 1,724.0 43.9
Sunday 155.3 56.0 1,001.4 25.5

Source: Statistik Austria/Statistics Austria 2007, own calculations

* Multiple answers were possible

Compared to the national average, more self-employed without employees habitually work in the evening, at night or on Saturdays and Sundays than the national average. 34% of the national average work in the evening and 20% at night compared with 58% and 29%, respectively, of the self-employed people without employees. Even though 44% of all employed persons in Austria work on Saturdays, this number amounts to 77% for self-employed persons without employees. Further, more than twice as many self-employed persons without employees (56%) work on Sundays than the national average (25.5%).

Place of work of self-employed workers without employees compared with the national average:

Home/office distribution.

Two-thirds of all self-employed persons without employees work from home (see Table 8). This number can be considered as rather high as the national average is only one-fifth of employees.

Table 8. Work from home, 2006*
  Self-employed without employees National average
  In 1,000 In % In 1,000 In %
Work from home 183.4 66.19 785.3 19.99

Source: Statistik Austria/Statistics Austria 2007

*Multiple answers were possible

The survey by Schubert and Keck (2006) revealed that 32% of self-employed people who do not have employees work from home, while 21.7% work in their own offices. Another 10% only work at their clients’ premises. Overall, the majority of self-employed people without employees (35.9%) alternately works at different places, at home, at the office and at their clients’ premises.

Exposure to risks and accidents at work of self-employed workers without employees compared with the national average:

Work accident rates.

Not available.

Health outcomes, work-related health problems and occupational illnesses of self-employed workers without employees compared with national average:

Occupational illness rates.Work intensity and stress at work

Not available.

Lifelong learning of self-employed workers without employees compared with the national average:

Participation rates in continuous education and training.

Not available.

Work-life balance of self-employed workers without employees compared with the national average:

Presence and take up rates of maternity/parental leave (according to the applicable social security regime).Presence and take up rates of long-term leave (according to the applicable social security regime). If possible, please indicate the reasons for long-term leave.Degree of control of personal working time.Degree of consistency of personal working time with family and social commitments.

Not available.

The survey by Schubert and Keck, however, provides some interesting results concerning the reconciliation of work and family life. First of all it has to be said that nearly half of all respondents (45.5%) assume care responsibilities, whereas nearly 30% are in charge of children below the age of 15 years, 23% care for elderly people and 5% take care of sick relatives (multiple answers were possible).

Looking at care responsibilities and working time, the survey reveals that a majority of people (55%) with small children work more than 41 hours a week. Also the share of those who care for elderly relatives is highest among self-employed people who work more than 41 hours a week (52%). Considering these working hours, it is a surprising fact that nearly 87% feel that they are capable of reconciling work and family life very well (36%) or well (51%). Unfortunately, the survey does not offer an explanation for this result. The share of female and male interviewees does not explain this finding, as half of all respondents were female.

Job satisfaction of self-employed workers without employees compared with the national average:

Degree of satisfaction with employment conditions.Degree of satisfaction with working conditions.

Not available.

5. The social partners’ positions


In accordance with legislation, the WKÖ employers’ organisation claims to represent only companies, including ‘one-person companies’, with a formal operating licence, which are obliged to contribute a certain level of membership dues (AT0512202N). Considerations about organising also ‘self-employed workers’ without a trade licence do not play any part in the chamber’s official policy agenda, although WKÖ officials seem to be somewhat divided on that issue.

During the past two decades, the ÖGB and its affiliates have extended their membership domains to self-employed workers without employees. For some years now, the unions have seen the need to dedicate increasing resources to organising new (and continuously increasing) member groups, in an attempt to revitalise their organisations. In particular, the GPA-DJP launched a large-scale reform of its organisation in June 2000, aimed at recruiting new social groups such as dependent self-employed workers (AT0212202F, Pernicka 2006). With regard to the latter group, the most important structural change of the then GPA was the establishment of special sections (Interessengemeinschaften), which are designed to represent the interests of special groups of ‘atypical’ workers.

Collective bargaining/joint regulation

Since organised labour acknowledged its representational function towards ‘self-employed workers’ in the 1990s, the trade unions have attempted to bring these workers under the terms of ‘standard’ social security and labour law. With regard to the latter, this includes an entitlement for the unions to conclude collective agreements for this group and to include these workers in the company-level system of co-determination. Apart from the few exceptions depicted in section 3.1 above (journalists), the unions have failed to realise their goals in this respect. The business organisations, in particular the WKÖ, have generally refused to enter into negotiations on binding collective regulations for ‘self-employed workers’. They argue that – at least with respect to pay – collectively agreed minimum standards for formally self-employed people would breach national and international rulings concerning the principle of free competition.

Legislative regulation/public policies

Against the background of a growing number of insolvencies of small-scale craft producers and ‘one-person companies’ in recent years, the WKÖ has demanded an optional integration of all self-employed people into the Austrian unemployment insurance scheme. On the other hand, the unions have for several years urged the government to close the gaps in social security law for ‘self-employed workers’. Therefore the two sides of industry drew up a joint social partner package of proposals in December 2006, including far-reaching measures for extending social protection for ‘economically dependent workers’. The social partner proposals have largely been adopted by the current government, such that the compulsory unemployment insurance coverage, insolvency and severance pay as well as sickness and ‘standard’ maternity benefits applying to ‘regular’ employees will probably be extended to ‘freelance contractors’ in 2008. With regard to ‘new self-employed’ people, according to a government draft bill, they may opt for an unemployment scheme granting them eligibility to receive unemployment benefits, beginning in January 2009.

6. NC Commentary

In Austria, as in all other highly industrialised European countries, industrial restructuring and company downsizing have been associated with systematic attempts to reduce labour costs. Increasingly, employers have been replacing directly employed personnel with workers who are legally self-employed but in fact wholly dependent on the company. Although the extent of this employment relationship is still rather limited, accounting for only one or two percent of the total workforce, this trend poses a distinct challenge to the Austrian trade unions. In order to offset the problem of continuing membership losses and facing the need to revitalise the country’s labour organisations the Austrian unions have opened their doors to formerly excluded groups of atypical and formally self-employed workers (Pernicka 2006).

Despite large differences in their individual income, it is a common feature of all these ‘self-employed workers’ that they are not sufficiently protected against the risks of longer periods of sickness and unemployment in particular. Therefore the current government’s decision to close the existing gap in terms of social security, at least with regard to ‘freelance contractors’, is of utmost importance for them. Since the planned social security measures will increase labour costs for the ‘employer’, it remains to be seen whether the new legislation will prompt some employers to offer ‘standard’ employment relationships instead of ‘free service contracts’ again.


Blaschke, Sabine/Mirschel, Veronika (2007): Die Genese gewerkschaftlicher Interessenvertretung für Solo-Selbstständige unter besonderer Berücksichtigung des Mediensektors; in: Pernicka/Aust (2007) (see below), pp 53-76

Fink, Marcel/Riesenfelder, Andreas/Tálos, Emmerich/Wetzel, Petra (2005): Forschungsbericht. Neue Selbständige in Österreich, Wien

Österreichischer Gewerkschaftsbund (ÖGB)/Arbeiterkammer (AK) (2003): Atypisch beschäftigt – typisch für die Zukunft der Arbeit?, Wien

Pernicka, Susanne (2006): Organizing the Self-Employed: Theoretical Considerations and Empirical Findings; in: European Journal of Industrial Relations, vol.12 no.2, pp 123-140, London, Thousand Oaks, CA and New Delhi

Pernicka, Susanne/Aust, Andreas (ed.) (2007): Die Unorganisierten gewinnen. Gewerkschaftliche Rekrutierung und Interessenvertretung atypisch Beschäftigter – ein deutsch-österreichischer Vergleich, Berlin

Schubert, Martina/Keck, Wolfgang (2006): Österreichischer Bericht über die Befragung von Ein-Personen-Unternehmen (2006), Version 0.2, Wien

Statistics Austria (2006): Arbeitskräfteerhebung 2004. Ergebnisse des Mikrozensus, Wien

Statistics Austria (2007) Arbeitskräfteerhebung 2006. Ergebnisse des Mikrozensus, Wien

Wimmer, Günter (2004): Private versus öffentliche Anbieter sozialer Dienstleistungen (Diplomarbeit), Wien

Marion Vogt, FORBA, and Georg Adam, Department of Industrial Sociology, University of Vienna

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