New forms of apprenticeship contracts - an example from the Federal Railways

Trade union and management at Austrian Federal Railways have recently agreed on new ways of hiring trainees, thus maintaining traditional levels of apprenticeships in a company which is reducing its workforce. In addition, 50 apprenticeship positions for women were agreed at the behest of the Government.

The Austrian Federal Railways (Österreichische Bundesbahnen, ÖBB, ) employs about 55,000 people, and each year hires about 350 new apprentices for three-year courses. In 1997, it was originally planned to reduce the number to 250 but two recent agreements should lead to an intake of over 400. The key to the increase is innovative bargaining by the Union of Railway Workers (Gewerkschaft der Eisenbahner) and funding from the Government.

In the first of the two agreements, the Government offered to finance the training of 50 female apprentices over and above the 250 apprentices planned, almost all of whom are male. Part of the cost will be borne by the Public Employment Service (Arbeitsmarktservice, AMS) in its regular programme of subsidising female apprentices in mostly male occupations, to the tune of ATS 4,000 per month for the entire three- or four-year duration of the apprenticeship.

The second scheme arises from an initiative by the trade union. The ÖBB is one of only 7% of apprenticing companies which have dedicated training facilities or full-time training staff. A reduction in the number of new apprentices from the 358 recorded in 1996 to 250 would have jeopardised the further existence of the training facilities and the jobs therein, especially if the lower intake had continued in the future. The ÖBB itself, in order to replenish its qualified staff, only requires about 80 apprentices per year. Therefore bargaining was launched with management over the creation of an "apprenticeship foundation". The idea is for the foundation to hire 108 apprenticeship seekers who will then be trained by ÖBB staff using ÖBB facilities. Although not formally apprentices, they will receive the exact same training and schooling and will in the end be eligible for the regular graduation exams and the legal status attached to passing them. It will be one of the foundation's tasks subsequently to place the trainees in the labour market.

While it is certain that the foundation will come into existence through an agreement, a number of details have yet to be negotiated. These include the precise remuneration of the trainees, eligibility for special railway benefits such as free transportation, and the ÖBB's duty to keep them on for at least four months after the end of the apprenticeship programme. In the first year, costs of ATS 40 million are expected to accrue from this scheme. The foundation is open to other federally-owned public transportation companies, and in future years perhaps also for private ones.

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