Austria: Latest working life developments – Q2 2017

A new minimum wage of €1,500, the breakdown of negotiations on working time flexibility, a record low of occupational accidents and difficult working conditions in the health sector are the main topics of interest in this article. This country update reports on the latest developments in working life in Austria in the second quarter of 2017.

Minimum wage of €1,500 negotiated

As reported in January, Austria’s federal coalition government asked the social partners to negotiate agreements on implementing a cross-sectoral minimum wage of €1,500 and on working time flexibility, and to present them by mid-2017. Failing this, the government would implement statutory regulations.

After months of negotiations, at a press conference on 30 June, the heads of the four main social partner organisations, the Austrian Trade Union Federation (ÖGB), the Chamber of Labour (AK), the Federal Economic Chamber (WKO) and the Austrian Chamber of Agriculture (LKO) presented the results.

The social partners had come to a general agreement on the implementation of a monthly minimum wage of €1,500. This will benefit 300,000 employees who are currently earning less and will be implemented via sectoral collective agreements by 2020 (in all those sectors where the minimum wage is currently lower). The new minimum wage had already been implemented in many sectors in the spring collective bargaining rounds, with agreements reached in other sectors on a gradual implementation by 2020.

Breakdown of negotiations on working time flexibility

However, the social partners could not agree on working time flexibility, although they reportedly came ‘very close’. The employers wanted an extension of the regular working day to 12 hours, with employees demanding more free time in exchange. However, there were assurances that the topic would be further negotiated in the coming weeks and months. The social partners’ motivation to reach an agreement on working time flexibility might have been somewhat curbed by political circumstances – such as the current crisis in the federal coalition government, with the de-facto cancellation of its cooperation after the resignation, in May, of Reinhold Mitterlehner, Vice Chancellor of the conservative People’s Party (ÖVP), plus the call for an election (to be held on 15 October).

Occupational accidents at record low

In April, the latest figures on occupational accidents (PDF) in Austria in 2016 were presented by the General Accidents Insurance Corporation (AUVA). The figures indicate a record low of 24.59 accidents per 1,000 employees at work (including workers’ commute to and from work). A decline in fatal work accidents was also observed, from 124 in 2015 to 106 in 2016 (also including people’s commute). Nonetheless, comparing the figures internationally, Austria has a high share of fatal accidents per capita, being ranked eighth in the EU (data refer to 2014). The most common occupational disease is noise-induced hearing loss, with more than 560 cases recognised as an occupational disease in 2016.

Unions march for better working conditions in the care sector

On 12 May, International Nurses Day, a protest march was organised in Vienna by the Union of Private Sector Employees, Printing, Journalism, and Paper (GPA-djp), the Transport and service union (vida), the Union of public services (GÖD) and the Union of Municipal Employees, Art, Media, Sport and Freelance Workers (younion). The march was to draw attention to the difficult working conditions in the health sector.

The unions are demanding mandatory personnel requirements analysis (uniform across all federal states) for all health and social care institutions on the number of staff and required qualifications. They argue that this will ensure minimum standards and fair working conditions. The two private sector unions, GPA-djp and vida, also want the working time reduced to 35 hours per week, saying this will help prevent occupational burnout, which is common among employees in the sector. Negotiations began in April 2017 but have stalled, with employers saying the sector’s current lack of labour means they cannot negotiate on this.

Commentary

As reported in the previous quarter, in early 2017, the federal coalition government included a programme targeted towards the creation of 20,000 jobs in municipalities, social enterprises and charities for unemployed people aged 50 or older in its updated work programme. In April, the proposal was passed in parliament and is due to be implemented in July 2017. In the next quarterly update, detailed information on the so-called Aktion 20,000 will be provided.

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