2000 collective bargaining round reviewed
In 2000, Austrian sectoral collective bargaining system continued to display stability, with a very high level of coverage, metalworking playing its traditional pattern-setting role, and agreements generally concluded swiftly. This feature outlines the main points of the bargaining round.
Collective bargaining in Austria (AT9912207F) is conducted at sectoral level and is differentiated into a relatively large number of separate agreements (eg for blue- and white-collar workers, or for industrial and craft production). However, it is coordinated across the economy. This is because a practice of "pattern bargaining" prevails, based on the leading role of the metalworking industry in the overall bargaining process. Traditionally, the collective agreements for the blue-collar workers and white-collar workers in the metalworking industry are negotiated first, which thus sets the pace for the other bargaining units in the course of the annual bargaining rounds. In this respect, the "global" agreement (Globalrunde) for white-collar workers in most parts of manufacturing follows suit. These agreements set a guiding framework for negotiations in all remaining sectors, including the public sector. The metalworking industry sets the pace for routine bargaining, as well as the trend regarding basic priorities for bargaining policy. This leading role rests on the close cooperation between the blue-collar Metalworking and Textiles Union (Gewerkschaft Metall-Textil, GMT), representing the highly unionised manual workers in the metalworking industry, and the Union of Salaried Employees (Gewerkschaft der Privatangestellten, GPA).
More than 400 collective agreements were concluded in 2000. This was slightly lower than in 1999, due to the fact that in some sectors earlier agreements were valid for two years. The majority of the 400 agreements cover small numbers of companies and employees in narrowly defined sectors, or are separate agreements on specific issues.
The 2000 bargaining round
The bargaining round in autumn 2000 brought quick results, which was somewhat surprising, due to sometimes bitter confrontations between organised labour and the right-wing federal government (AT0007225F) which one might expect to have overshadowed the bargaining round. Notably, pay arrangements were the most important feature of the bargaining round, whilst a variety of non-wage issues were also included.
Metalworking leads the way
The social partners successfully concluded a collective agreement for the pattern-setting metalworking sector in October 2000 (AT0011233N). Under the deal, which covers blue- and white-collar employees, minimum wage rates will increase by 3.7% from January 2001 and the new minimum monthly wage is thus ATS 15,650. This means that low-wage groups will receive a pay increase of 4.3%. Employers estimated the cost of the agreement at ATS 1 billion for every percentage point of wage increase. In order to allow individual companies to implement more customised pay structures, the "distribution option" (Verteilungsoption) introduced in earlier agreements (AT9911203N) was prolonged. Companies which choose to use this option may distribute 0.5% of the total paybill among certain groups within the company on the basis of a works agreement between management and works council. Actual pay must increase by 3.2% if the distribution option is applied. The collective agreement also brought changes in non-wage regulations. Most importantly, new rules on part-time work for older workers were implemented in the agreement, covering issues such as severance payments and bonuses. The social partners agreed to recommend part-time work for older workers as a means of preventing unemployment among this group.
The new pay agreements for white-collar employees in several other industrial sectors - paper, glass, stone and ceramics, and the chemicals industry - resulted in increases in minimum pay of 2.5%-3.5% and in actual pay of 2.0%-2.8%.
The pay settlements in other sectors generally brought lower wage increases. For example, the collective agreement for the "trade" sector, which covers a variety of different branches (Allgemeines Gewerbe), provides for an increase of 2.2% in minimum wages and apprentices' remuneration. In commerce, pay has been increased by 2.4%-3.0%, depending on individual income.
The public sector gained special importance in the 2000 bargaining round (AT0005221F). Substantial differences between the federal government and the Union of Public Employees (Gewerkschaft Öffenticher Dienst, GÖD) existed at the beginning of negotiations. The government had proposed combining the pay negotiations with other issues, such as workforce reductions, new working time arrangements, privatisation and restructuring efforts. In the view of the government, a pay rise for public employees depended on the willingness of the union to reach an agreement on expenditure cuts in the context of the proposed reform initiatives. GÖD initially rejected many proposals, but finally reached an agreement on the disputed issues. The pay increase in the public sector will be ATS 500 per month from 1 January 2001. This means a pay rise of more than 2% for low-paid public employees. A pay increase in the form of a one-off payment had been preferred by the government in previous years, since it grants a pay rise without increasing the level of salaries as is the case with percentage increases. In 2002, the pay rise will reflect only the inflation rate, which is anticipated to be 0.8% in that year, a forecast that will be adjusted later.
The collective bargaining system again proved its high degree of stability during the 2000 bargaining round. Bargaining levels have remained unchanged, and collective bargaining coverage - which is estimated at around 98% of the workforce - has even grown somewhat.
A first-ever collective agreement for the information technology sector was signed in October 2000, covering 20,000 employees in the "new economy" (AT0012235N). Without traditions of representation, the new economy is particularly crucial for both employers' and employees' organisations. The collective agreement is deemed as important as it introduces new regulations in respect of working time, as well as regulations on teleworking, which is highly innovative in Austria.
Besides this agreement, which covers the information technology branches in a narrow sense, a collective agreement for the telecommunications sector was also signed in 2000. It covers about 5,000 employees and contains a variety of branch-specific regulations in respect to pay structure, working time, and training and skills development.
In the view of the Austrian Trade Union Federation (Österreichsicher Gewerkschaftsbund, ÖGB) and the Chamber of the Economy (Wirtschaftskammer Österreichs, WKÖ), the 2000 bargaining round demonstrated that the social partnership system at the sectoral bargaining level is still working in Austria. Aside from the pay arrangements, the agenda of bargaining in many branches was extended to non-wage issues. A trend towards more branch-specific collective agreements, especially in new service branches as information technology, was also observed. (Angelika Stueckler, University of Vienna).