New rules on part-time work in the civil service

New legal regulations due to come into force in June 1997 broaden the availability of part-time work in the Austrian civil service, though they do not introduce a sabbatical scheme as planned originally.

On 18 March, the Government submitted a reform package to Parliament addressing five civil service issues, among them the implementation of EC Directive on working time (93/104/EC) in the civil service and more flexible working time rules. Here we focus on the latter point. The new regulations are expected to be voted on by Parliament in time to take effect on 1 June 1997.

Until now it was only possible for an employee to work part-time in the civil service, if a close relative had to be cared for, and in these cases working time had to be reduced to exactly 50%. Further, the reduction could not last longer than four years. These limitations will now be removed. All civil servants will be entitled to apply for part-time work. Minimum hours will be 20 per week but any number of hours between that and full time (40 hours) can be applied for. As a general rule the employees concerned will be required to work a number of complete hours, but given a good reason they can also be granted a working time including part-hours. They will no longer have to argue their case for part-time work.

A request to work part time can be turned down either totally, or with regard to the precise number of hours to be worked, if there are important reasons against. These reasons are specified: working time cannot be reduced while on an assignment abroad, or if the reduction would preclude the further use of the applicant in the same or an equal position. The request to work part time can be for up to 10 years and must be made for a number of complete years. A civil servant who has been granted reduced working time can be summoned to work for extra hours if this is necessary in order to avoid damage, and no civil servant working full time is available. It will be possible to change the number of hours worked during the period of part-time working, and to return to full-time work before the period is up. Both these possibilities are subject to the condition that no important reasons stand against.

Most of the reform had been agreed between the Government and the civil service trade union by December 1996. One point remained contentious and is now not included: the sabbatical. The Danish system of sabbatical leave had received some publicity in Austria, and in 1996 the then Government suggested that civil servants should accept a pay cut and in return have a right to a one-year sabbatical after four years. The trade union, Gewerkschaft Öffentlicher Dienst (GÖD), had tied three demands to the sabbatical: all posts vacated for a sabbatical must be filled; all sabbaticals should be voluntary; all sabbaticals should last for a full year. The Government insisted that posts should be filled on a case-by-case basis, and sabbaticals should last for six or 12 months at a time. As is obvious from these positions, the Government aimed to reduce the number of positions in the civil service, and the trade union bargained to maintain or even expand them. The sabbatical remains on the agenda, but its fate is now unclear.

On annual average the civil service in 1996 employed 364,491 persons, this being 12.0% of all employees.

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