Civil service strike threats

In the Austrian civil service, impatience with government budget-cutting and reform plans is coming to a head. A warning strike has been provisionally organised for 3 June 1997.

The hard core of the strike threat are 10,000 civil servants in internal revenue collection and in the customs service. They have two complaints:

  • while workload increases, the number of employees is being decreased; and
  • a traditional element of their income, amounting to one monthly salary payment per year, was this year cut by half by the government.

The latter complaint is shared by part of the customs service. The Federal Section Finance (Bundessektion Finanz) of the Civil Service Trade Union (Gewerkschaft Öffentlicher Dienst, GÖD) on 12 May issued a formal strike threat for 3 June.

The second and much larger group with grievances are 33,000 members of the police. They have been threatening to join the 3 June strike but have not made a formal decision as yet. Their complaint is that the Government has not so far honoured an agreement made in February 1996. At the time an austerity package was put together, and part of the GÖD's contribution was a penalty on early retirement from 1 May 1996. Since then, civil servants retiring before the age of 60 have to accept a 2% pension cut for every year that they are younger than 60. As a result, the number of people taking their pension before the age of 60 shrank from about 2,400 in 1995 to about 600 in 1996. The GÖD's board at the time was less than unanimous on the subject. A majority of 76 votes to 44 could be secured only by promising improvements for civil servants working under especially hard conditions. Clearly the police, with frequent night shifts, were a prime candidate for a new hardship premium. The idea was to offer a time-off premium which would be accumulated and converted into an earlier pension date, but the negotiations came to nothing.

Elsewhere, discontent among 10,000 university lecturers about the impending reform of their employment conditions and staff cuts has, for the time being, largely been settled.

The GÖD and the Government created five working groups to deal with the various civil service problems, with negotiations between the two sides set for 27 May. A 20 May date was cancelled at short notice because the Government's negotiators were not available. The Government's line is clearly that there cannot be any cost increases in the civil service. Any increase in salaries will have to be made up for by a reduction in personnel.

Meanwhile, on 14 May, Parliament passed a reform bill taking effect on 1 July 1997, which makes part-time work more easily available for civil servants and more flexible; extends EC directive 93/104/EC on working and leisure time to the civil service; increases travel reimbursements; and includes a number of other changes in the working conditions of civil servants (AT9703106N).

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