Retail salaries under negotiation

A difficult round of negotiations over a 1998 salary agreement began in Austria's retail sector in October 1997. The trade union is seeking an increase above inflation, while employers would like a differentiated settlement, providing on average for increases below inflation.

On 8 October 1997 the Trade Union of Salaried Employees (Gewerkschaft der Privatangestellten, GPA) - the largest single trade union within the Austrian Federation of Trade Unions (Österreichischer Gewerkschaftsbund, ÖGB) - challenged retail employers to provide a 3.5% increase in minimum salaries from 1 January 1998 and to maintain current absolute differences between minimum and actual salaries. By 24 October, the union's position had softened to 3%. This compares with a 1997 inflation rate of about 1.5%, with roughly the same expected for 1998. A year ago, the GPA asked for 4.5% and settled for 1.95%. For the employers, the Austrian Chamber of the Economy (Wirtschaftskammer Österreich, WKÖ) has ruled out a percentage increase across the board. It offers fixed-amount increases differing by salary grade without, on average, exceeding the rate of inflation. The increase in apprentices' remuneration demanded by the GPA was ruled out.

The collective agreement in question covers about 320,000 employees, 60% to 70% of them women, with another 130,000 waged and salaried employees in retailing and other industries traditionally modeling their agreements on those achieved by retail salaried employees. Together this amounts to 15% of Austrian employment.

Retailing is a key industry for female employment. The recent widening of the gap between male and female annual gross incomes (AT9710136N) adds urgency to the salary negotiations. So does the reduction of employment in retailing, especially of male employment, during the 12 months to the end of August 1997 which was accompanied by an increase in female employment. These movements, like the employment figures above, do not include employment contracts yielding less than ATS 3,750 gross per month, which are alleged to have begun proliferating since opening hours were extended to Saturday afternoons in January 1997. The negotiations are further influenced by the nominal 3.5% drop in turnover which retailers have been reporting.

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