Campaign against illegal employment

A "clean workplace campaign" aimed at combating illegal employment was initiated by the Government in December 1997, while various ministers have made statements to the effect that this may become one of the main policy issues in 1998. The topic may be carried over to Austria's Presidency of the European Union in the second half of the year.

At the beginning of December 1997, the Austrian Government announced plans for a "clean workplace campaign" (Aktion sauberer Arbeitsplatz) aimed at combating illegal employment. The main objective is to get a better grip on taxable income but a secondary aim is clearly to please the social partners after 1997's acrimonious pensions debate (AT9709134N). At the Ministry of Labour, Health and Social Affairs (Bundesministerium für Arbeit, Gesundheit und Soziales, BMAGS), six working groups were set up with a remit to devise tighter controls and more adequate penalties. In all working groups, the social partners are included along with representatives of various ministries.

The immediate target of the campaign is the employment of third-country nationals without work permits. The suggestions at this time include: a closer coordination between permit and social security data; stiffer penalties for employers, including in certain cases the withdrawal of the employer's trading permit; an automatic tax review; disadvantages in tendering that might go as far as exclusion; and exclusion from subsidy schemes operated by the Public Employment Service (Arbeitsmarktservice, AMS).

The Austrian Trade Union Federation (Österreichischer Gewerkschaftsbund, ÖGB), which groups all trade unions and in practice controls the Federal Chamber of Labour (Bundesarbeitskammer, BAK), has issued a series of statements urging such a campaign.

The Austrian Chamber of the Economy (Wirtschaftskammer Österreich, WKÖ), of which almost all employers are compulsory members, is also in favour of the campaign. Its trades and crafts groupings are especially supportive, reckoning that they lose turnover of ATS 220,000 million per year through illegal employment. Such estimates regularly arouse a degree of doubt, since it is unclear how much of the turnover made illegally would accrue at all if the higher prices of legal work would have to be paid. Further, the figure relates to work done illegally in general, of which far less than 10% would be attributable to the employment of immigrants.

The Minister of the Economy, according to press reports, has called for greater cooperation between the Chamber of the Economy and the police in an effort to combat illegal work between Friday afternoon and Sunday evening.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs, in turn, hinted at the possibility of making the combating of illegal employment one of the main issues of Austria's Presidency of the European Union in the second half of 1998.

Other politicians have also highlighted illegalities in the employment of European Union nationals in Austria.

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