Controversy over quota for foreign seasonal workers
28 March 2004
Austria has a long tradition of a relatively high level of seasonal labour, especially in 'typically' seasonal branches such as tourism and agriculture. Seasonal labour has always been characterised by a disproportionately high share of foreign workers. The legal status of foreign seasonal workers differs considerably from that of all other resident or foreign employees working in Austria, in particular in terms of labour law and security of residence. Seasonal labour is particularly important for employers that require short-term labour due to fluctuations in demand. This means that seasonal workers may be employed during short-term periods of higher demand for labour. When the employment relationship comes to an end, the foreign worker must subsequently leave the country.
Government plans seven-year transitional period for workers from central and eastern Europe
07 March 2004
On 24 February 2004, the cabinet council agreed a transitional regulation which aims to ensure a medium-term continuation of the current restrictions on entry to the Austrian labour market for workers from the EU acceding countries in central and eastern Europe, during the first years of their EU membership. In the face of the forthcoming accession of 10 new EU Member States on 1 May 2004, the coalition government of the conservative People’s Party (Österreichische Volkspartei, ÖVP) and the populist Freedom Party (Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs, FPÖ) has drawn up a regulation which seeks to continue the present restrictive access regime for entry to the Austrian labour market for workers from outside the current European Economic Area (EEA) (AT9703104F ). In more detail, the government plans to enact an EU Enlargement Adaptation Act (EU Erweiterungs-Anpassungsgesetz) which will prohibit employees from most of the new EU Member States from entering Austria’s labour market without restriction from 1 May 2004, for a transitional period of up to seven years (as permitted under arrangements agreed by the EU and new Member States in central and eastern Europe). Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel of the ÖVP stated that this regulation will, for the next few years, protect resident employees from cheaper (ie low-wage) foreign competitors.  www.eurofound.europa.eu/ef/observatories/eurwork/articles/undefined-law-and-regulation-labour-market-social-policies/the-legal-position-of-foreign-nationals
Government presents draft tax reform
01 March 2004
In early January 2004, the coalition government of the conservative People’s Party (Österreichische Volkspartei, ÖVP) and the populist Freedom Party (Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs, FPÖ) presented a draft for a comprehensive taxation reform. This reform aims to reduce taxes for both employees and companies and, it is planned, should be enacted by parliament by June 2004. According to Karl-Heinz Grasser, the minister of finance, these measures are devised to reduce the overall rate of taxation (paid by employees and employers) from the current 43% of the GDP to 42.3% from 2005, when the reform should come into effect. Despite the planned cut in tax returns for the state, Mr Grasser calculates the 2005 budgetary deficit at no higher than 1.5% of GDP. The total volume of tax relief due to the draft reform is planned to amount to EUR 2 billion and EUR 3 billion per year.
Electrical sector agrees first common pay system for blue- and white-collar workers
22 February 2004
On 12 December 2003, the Federal Organisation of the Electrical and Electronics Industry (Fachverband der Elektro- und Elektronikindustrie, FEEI) on the employers’ side and the blue-collar Metalworking and Textiles Union (Gewerkschaft Metall-Textil, GMT) and white-collar Union of Salaried Employees (Gewerkschaft der Privatangestellten, GPA) on the employees’ side concluded a new collective agreement for the electrical and electronics sector. After a three-year period of negotiations, the social partners in this sector managed to reach a settlement on a new common pay scheme for both employee groups - ie blue-collar and white-collar workers. Accordingly, the sector's 250 companies and 58,000 employees will be covered by a new classification scheme (Beschäftigtengruppenschema) providing for a more precise single classification of jobs. This aim to replace the old classification system which has been widely perceived as too inflexible and imprecise, with problems of incorrect classification arising mostly to the detriment of women (AT0103209F ). The new scheme is devised to improve the validity of job classifications, in particular regarding formally unskilled workers actually working as skilled/trained employees. These advantages, however, are counterbalanced by a less favourable system of automatic pay increments (Vorrückungssystem) as compared with the current automatic two-yearly increments. However, the new agreement stipulates another additional pay scheme analogous to the so-called 'distribution option' which has been laid down in collective agreements on several occasions in the past (AT0111229N ). Under the new agreement, a certain proportion of the collectively agreed pay increase (Verteilungsvolumen) can be flexibly distributed among the employees of an individual establishment. In contrast to the 'distribution option' which was voluntary, the new clause is binding on the employer.  www.eurofound.europa.eu/ef/observatories/eurwork/articles/social-policies-undefined-industrial-relations/gender-related-pay-differentials-examined  www.eurofound.europa.eu/ef/observatories/eurwork/articles/new-collective-agreements-concluded-in-metalworking
Small growth in sickness absence in 2003
15 February 2004
Estimates released by the Association of Social Security Providers (Hauptverband der Sozialversicherungsträger, HSV) at the end of January 2004 indicate a small growth in the average amount of sickness absence among Austrian employees in 2003. According to these preliminary data, the average number of days of sickness absence from work per employee stood at between 13.0 and 13.1 in 2003, up from an average of 12.9 days in 2002. Similarly, the average duration of sickness absence per case increased slightly, from 12.2 in 2002 to 12.3 days in 2003. Moreover, the total of days of sick leave grew from 36.4 million in 2002 to an estimated 36.7 million in 2003. However, this corresponded approximately to the increase in the total number of employees over this period. These figures refer to all employees in Austria except for railway employees and career public servants (Beamte), thus covering about 2.8 million workers.
Thematic feature - redundancies and redundancy costs
27 January 2004
In November 2003, the EIRO national centres in each EU Member State (plus Norway), were asked, in response to a questionnaire, to give a brief overview of: the procedures and costs involved in collective redundancies - ie the dismissal of a number of employees for economic/organisational reasons (rather than reasons related to the individuals concerned); the levels of, and reasons for, redundancies over recent years; and current debate on the issue. The Austrian responses are set out below (along with the questions asked).
Steel producers fully privatised
25 January 2004
The state public holding company,Österreichische Industrieholding AG (ÖIAG), was set up by law as a holding concern to administer and manage the companies completely or partially owned by the state. In 1993, however, the operational relationship between ÖIAG and its (still) state-owned subsidiaries was dissolved by means of substantial restructuring measures. Since then, ÖIAG's statutory role has been to sell off (ie privatise) its state shares in companies. Thus, this institution changed from an operating concern holding a set of shares in (partially) state-owned companies to an executive privatisation agency which is mainly obliged to carry out the privatisation of all these firms on behalf of the government. In this way, most of the (former) state-owned industries have now been fully or partially privatised.
First nationwide agreement signed for social and health services
05 January 2004
The private social and health service sector is a growing segment of the Austrian labour market. However, it is characterised by precarious and inconsistent employment conditions, due to the vast number of different organisations and establishments which supply services for groups such as people facing underprivilege and discrimination, people with disabilities and old people. Aside from public institutions such as regional (Länder) governments and communities, there are about 2,300 small-sized and about 20 large private-law establishments providing social and health services, including child and youth welfare, services for people with disabilities, geriatric nursing, care for refugees and foreigners etc.
Restructuring of Austrian Federal Railways leads to strikes
16 December 2003
Workers at Austrian Federal Railways (Österreichische Bundesbahnen, ÖBB) went on strike on 4 November 2003 and from 12 to 14 November 2003 (including a continuous period of 66 hours). These strikes, which followed a two-week overtime ban which started in mid-October, constituted the largest-scale industrial action at the company since 1945.
Social partners propose new rules on unemployment benefit entitlement
09 December 2003
After intense negotiations between the social partners over recent months, on 25 November 2003 they agreed to propose a tightening of the 'provisions of reasonableness' (Zumutbarkeitsbestimmungen) which govern the conditions under which unemployed people may refuse a job offered by the Labour Market Service (Arbeitsmarktservice, AMS) without losing their entitlement to unemployment benefits (AT0303202F ). The social partners’ agreement provides that the period during which unemployed people may refuse to take up a job unrelated to their previous occupation (known as the Berufsschutz) should be reduced to the first 100 days of unemployment. As a compensation, a 'pay guarantee' (Entgeltschutz) should be introduced, whereby, for a period of 120 days from the first day of unemployment, unemployed people may refuse a job offered if the pay is below of 80% of the their previous earnings liable to unemployment insurance contributions (Bemessungsgrundlage). After this 120-day period, the minimum would be reduced to 75%.  www.eurofound.europa.eu/ef/observatories/eurwork/articles/new-government-calls-for-eur-1000-monthly-minimum-wage