SCA Laakirchen, Austria: flexible working practices
SCA Laakirchen is part of the Swedish group, SCA Svenska Cellulosa Aktiebolaget, a multinational paper and paperboard manufacturer. Acquired by the SCA group over 15 years ago, SCA Laakirchen makes superior quality, high-grade papers by highly automated means.
In 2005, SCA Laakirchen employed 533 men, 26 women and 18 apprentices. The average employee age is 45 years and 124 employees are aged over 50 years. The company’s production department consists of 380 workers, 270 of whom do fully continuous shift work including night shifts. Their average age is 42 years. For the 60% of shift workers who are subject to night-shift regulation, the official retirement age is 57 years and 60 years for the approximately 40% of workers who are subject to heavy-work regulation.
The company’s initiative aimed at older employees is an integral part of its corporate culture, which is characterised by a high regard for employees as value drivers. Management, especially human resources (HR) management, is actively involved in employee development and in social and health matters. The social dialogue between management and the works council is structured and active.
The original initiative
The chairman of the SCA Laakirchen works council and the HR manager decided to introduce an initiative to enable older shift workers in the production area to have longer, healthier working lives. The previous schedule for the 380 male production workers (with an average age of 42 years) entailed night shifts and a weekly working time of 36 hours. This required 15 additional shifts, which were also scheduled to take into account a vacation time of five or six weeks.
Previously, older workers over 52 years of age received an annual ‘senior bonus’ until retirement age, to reward their long-term effort and commitment. In 2004, the works council proposed to change this monetary bonus into a time bonus, cancelling the 15 additional shifts for those aged over 52 years and giving them instead 15 extra days’ leave and less night work.
To date, 40 workers (11% of workers) have benefited from the initiative and salaries have been quite good. The works council took the responsibility for opting for ‘necessary time off’ instead of the ‘less necessary’ financial benefits. The HR manager agreed and cancelled the 15 additional shifts for older workers.
Good practice today
In 2000, SCA Laakirchen changed its pension policy by extending the age for early retirement. As this meant that employees would have to work for longer, the company’s works council and HR manager decided to develop an initiative to help ensure that older shift workers in the production area would have longer and healthier working lives. The initiative featured a ‘time instead of money’ bonus, which allowed workers aged over 52 years extra time off and less night work, in recognition of their long-term commitment and performance. Older shift workers who had already received the monetary senior bonus had the option of continuing or cancelling the additional shifts.
Both younger and older workers welcomed the new system and younger workers realised that they too would one day benefit from the arrangement. Because of its positive effects – enabling older workers to work longer while still maintaining their health – the initiative continues today. Older shift workers prefer better quality of life and health than the prospect of a financial bonus. The initiative did not create new jobs because the work was reorganised to be more efficient.
Although results have not been evaluated quantitatively, a works council survey shows the following effects:
- greater job satisfaction among older and younger workers;
- workers cope better with longer working lives;
- older workers who are on the time-bonus schedule experience less stress and take less sick leave;
- greater awareness of differences between generations – for team or process solutions, it is easier to use the differences for integrative solutions.
Moreover, this initiative reduced the:
- costs of the senior bonus;
- number of shifts per year (around 130 fewer shifts);
- cost of recruiting new workers.
The initiative to reduce physical work, especially night work, can be transferred. Implementing measures that favour older workers as a form of recognition encourages them to stay at work. The ‘time instead of money’ strategy also seems to be transferable when the works council supports it and when salaries are good like those of SCA shift workers.
The initiative and the discussion surrounding it have increased awareness of generational differences in physical and professional work capacity. It has positively affected how age is regarded in the corporate culture, how the social partners focus on the age issue and relationships among generations. For example:
- age is no longer perceived as a barrier to recruitment and workers aged over 50 years have been hired;
- attitudes to ageing colleagues have changed – more attention is paid to the needs of older workers, and solutions to their problems are generally found more easily and spontaneously.
It is likely that the focus on a three-generational orientation within the company will be further developed in the future.
SCA Laakirchen, website: www.sca.com
Schillerstraße 5, 4663 Laakirchen, Austria, Tel: 07613/8800-0
HR manager: Helmut Kienast, PO Box 5, 4663 Laakirchen, Austria