Reform of the apprenticeship system agreed
In March 1997, the social partners agreed the outlines of a reform of vocational training. These focus especially on the apprenticeship system, one of the mainstays of industrial skill formation in Austria.
The Austrian Trade Union Federation (Österreichischer Gewerkschaftsbund, ÖGB) and the Austrian Chamber of the Economy (Wirtschaftskammer Österreich, WKÖ) agreed the outlines of a reform of the apprenticeship system on 1 March 1997. The precise details are to be agreed in a working group comprising officials of the social partners, the Ministry of Labour, the Ministry of the Economy, and experts from other, as yet unspecified, organisations.
The impetus for the reform came from the declining interest in apprenticeship among both young people and enterprises. Since there is currently a shortfall of vacancies, most measures are aimed at making apprenticeship more attractive for enterprises. Thus it was agreed:
- to waive employers' health insurance contributions for apprentices from the third - and usually last - year of apprenticeship. This will cost ATS 450 million;
- to raise employers' health insurance contributions for salaried employees from 3.4% to 3.5% of pay to raise ATS 340 million, and to cover the remainder of the funding lost by cutting contributions for apprentices, with a contribution from the Ministry of the Economy;
- vocational school, which is obligatory for all apprentices, can be attended in blocks, even in cases where up until now there was a requirement for weekly attendance;
- apprentices over the age of 18 will no longer be covered by the provisions of the Children and Youth Employment Law (Kinder- und Jugendbeschäftigungsgesetz) and will thus legally be treated as adults, especially in terms of working time regulations; and
- the initial probationary period for apprentices will be extended from eight to 14 weeks in cases where the first two months are spent in vocational school.
A number of points remain contentious or undecided: the employers will continue to push for extending the latest possible point of the working day of apprentices under 18 from 22.00 hours to 23.00 hours; while an examination may be introduced for apprentices which may count towards university entry exams. As some of the detailed changes are bound up with the thorny issue of reforming the Trade Regulations (Gewerbeordnung), the forthcoming working group may not produce quick results. However, the Government seems to be determined to press for rapid change and implementation.