Plans for a collective agreement in computing

In autumn 1997, trade unions and employers are about to embark on negotiations for a collective agreement covering the Austrian software production and services sector. They will be building on an earlier agreement on working time in the metalworking sector and on a working time model devised by a group of trade unionists and employers for another section of the computing industry.

In October 1997, negotiations for a collective agreement covering salaries and working conditions in the computing industry are about to start. They will cover about 10,000 employees working in software and will be conducted by the Union of Salaried Employees (Gewerkschaft der Privatangestellten, GPA) and the Association of Enterprise Consultancies and Data Processing (Fachverband Unternehmensberatung und Datenverarbeitung), a unit of the Austrian Chamber of the Economy (Wirtschaftskammer Österreich, WKÖ). Five issues will be at the core of the negotiations:

  • occupational profiles. Since the industry keeps changing continuously, the profiles will be rather general, specifying mostly the supervisory functions and otherwise limiting themselves to lists of examples;
  • salary grades. The occupational profiles feed into the setting of salary grades. Since starting salaries have been declining while the salaries of experienced staff have held up, there may be an emphasis on rapid advancement in the first three to five years with a more level trajectory afterwards;
  • working time standards. These are likely to be modeled on the recently developed flexible working time model outlined below and, more perhaps, on the agreements concluded in the metalworking sector earlier in 1997 (AT9710138N). It is from this that the main impetus for the negotiations arises, at least as far as the employers are concerned;
  • initial and continuing training. This is mostly a working time issue which may be solved along the lines of the working time model outlined below; and
  • regulations for on-call duty. Again the model outlined below may serve to provide an idea of what the negotiations will be focusing on.

The GPA feels the negotiations might proceed rapidly once started. With works councils present in the 50 largest enterprises employing at least half the employees covered, the level of information on company practices is very good, which should facilitate a realistic approach to the negotiations on both sides of the table. Negotiations are expected to be concluded in a one- or two-day conclave.

A flexible working time model

In the spring of 1996 the Association for Service Management International (AFSMI) and the GPA formed a "working group on criteria for working time flexibility". It set itself the task of coming up with a catalogue of criteria to which working time models should or might adhere, and which could serve as a guideline for subsequent collective bargaining. By June 1997, the working group had progressed beyond its immediate goal and presented a fully-fledged working time model for technical servicing in the computing industry - ie for the servicing of hardware and software on customers' premises.

The model has the following main features:

  • weekly operating time to be extended to between 07.00 and 20.00 from Monday to Friday and between 07.00 and 17.00 on Saturday;
  • average working time of 35 hours per week;
  • alternating on a weekly basis between different "blocks" of working time (see below);
  • working time to comprise both in-company duty and on-call duty;
  • one hour of on-call duty is to count as 0.7 working hours from Monday to Friday and as a full working hour on Saturday. It counts as a full working hour if work is performed;
  • one hour of in-company duty is to count as a full hour between Monday and Friday and as 1.5 hours of working time on Saturday;
  • the upper limit of actual working time during on-call duty is to be 80%; and
  • no overtime premia to be payable during the extended operating hours.

To these general features was added a suggestion for a specific distribution of working time. It breaks the week up into two "blocks" between which employees would alternate. Block 1 covers Monday to Thursday and consists of: on-call duty between 07.00 and 09.00; in-company duty from 09.00 to 16.00; and on-call duty from 16.00 to 20.00. This amounts to a weighted working time of 42.8 hours. Block 2 consists of a Friday made up of the same distribution of hours as the other weekdays, and of a Saturday consisting of: on-call duty from 07.00 to 09.00; in-plant duty from 09.00 to 15.00; and on-call duty from 15.00 to 17.00. Weighted, this adds up to 23.7 hours. Average weekly hours over two weeks would thus be a minimum of 33.25 hours. If work has to be done while on-call, the number of hours worked increases. The arrangement would be coupled with the following rules:

  • at most, 20 excess or minus hours can be accumulated. Any excess hours open upon termination of employment are to be paid, any minus hours lapse;
  • hours outside the two blocks should essentially be worked only in cases of emergency and are to be paid as double time. Sunday and night work arising from contractual arrangements with customers does not count as an emergency. As a result, companies would require extra staff for these hours; and
  • training measures necessitating presence in the company on days off have to be announced at least four weeks in advance. They count as seven working hours per day and 35 per week. If the four weeks notice is not adhered to, a premium of 50% on the training hours accrues.

A problem has arisen for the model, in that amendments to the Working Time Act (Arbeitszeitgesetz, AZG), which came into effect on 1 May 1997, limit on-call duty to 10 hours per month or 30 hours over the course of three months (AT9702102F).

Since the AFSMI is not a body with the right to conclude collective agreements, further progress will depend on its members' success in persuading the relevant units within the WKÖ to enter into negotiations with the GPA. The GPA regards the model as ready for agreement.

Commentary

While there is optimism, especially in the GPA, that an agreement can be reached quickly, there are some dangers looming over the project. One is that the industry is divided into a large number of small companies and a few large ones. Any agreement might easily be seen by the small companies as an attempt by the big companies to push them out of the market. This very problem arose in the metalworking sector in April 1997 and delayed a collective agreement on working time flexibilisation for six months. Another problem - not for the negotiations this year but for future bargaining - might be that a collective agreement could keep small companies and especially owner-operators from hiring staff, thus stunting the growth of the industry and of employment. This would cast a shadow on future rounds of negotiations and the benefits employees could expect from them. However, it appears likely that the collective agreement will contain more a set of guidelines rather than strict rules - in this respect following the agreement on teleworking in the mineral oils sector concluded in April 1997 (AT9707123F) (August Gächter, IHS).

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