Women's night work ban to be relaxed

The Austrian Parliament is likely to pass new legislation allowing the social partners, from January 1998, to conclude collective agreements including exemptions from the ban on night-time employment of women. Balancing measures will have to be specified in any such agreement, and the women involved will be entitled to move to a day-time job for health reasons.

The Government and the social partners have agreed to make exceptions from Austria's ban on women's night work, with the result that from 1 January 1998 collective agreements may permit women to be employed between 22.00 and 06.00. The deal still needs to be ratified by Parliament.

Any collective agreement opening night-time employment up to women will have to include measures to balance the burden of working at night. It is essentially up to the negotiators to agree on any package: more breaks, additional holiday or transport offered by the company are mentioned in the proposal to Parliament, but only as examples.

The law will contain the right for women working at night to be transferred to a day-time job for health reasons, and a requirement to consider the necessities imposed by having to care for children under the age of 12 years. When similar proposals were made in 1996, employers protested against a provision that the employees concerned should receive an extra six minutes off per hour worked. This has not been included in the new legislative proposal and it will be up to the collective agreements to specify any compensation of this sort.

Austria has until 2001 to reform its regulations on night-time employment in accordance with EU law in a gender-neutral manner. The current proposal is driven primarily by concerns over losing jobs for women altogether, if they are categorically excluded from working at night. According to the Austrian Trade Union Federation (Österreichischer Gewerkschaftsbund, ÖGB), half of all employed women are willing to work at night rather than lose their job. Existing exemptions from the ban, such as those for waiting staff, flight attendants, nurses and doctors, have resulted in night work for about 50,000 women. It is expected that the metalworking sector and the food industry will conclude new collective agreements rapidly, and the textiles industry might follow. The agreements will initially cover shiftwork in industrial enterprises rather than crafts and trades, and may prompt between 10,000 and 20,000 women who have never done so before to work night shifts in 1998. Most of them will be immigrants for whom it could be difficult to resist working time arrangements including night shifts, and who could also be less likely to make use of the right to be transferred back to daytime work for health reasons. The same may be true in social services, such as home healthcare, which may soon conclude a collective agreement on this issue.

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