Agreement signed on women's night work
In March 1998, a collective agreement was concluded for manual workers in the Austrian metalworking industry which lays down the conditions under which the night-time employment of women is permissible. However, recent disputes are likely to continue as the trade union concerned has said that it will insist on extra conditions during plant-level negotiations on the issue.
Since 1 January 1998, the law has permitted collective agreements to make exceptions from the general ban on the night-time employment of women (AT9802163F), though gender-neutral regulations will have to be enacted by 1 January 2001. On 16 March 1998, the Union of Metals, Mining and Energy Workers (Gewerkschaft Metall-Bergbau-Energie, GMBE) and the Federal Industrial Section of the Austrian Chamber of the Economy (Wirtschaftskammer Österreich, WKÖ) concluded such a collective agreement for manual workers in industrial enterprises in the metalworking sector. The following points were agreed:
- the collective agreement covers only the night work of women recruited after 1 January 1998;
- night work must be voluntary and must be agreed with the individual employee in writing. Employees are protected against dismissal if they refuse to sign an agreement;
- so far as possible in a given plant, an employee has the right to move to a daytime position within two weeks if one of three conditions applies - a medical examination has shown that night work is dangerous for the employee's health, care of a child under 12 during the night and for at least eight hours during the day cannot be guaranteed, or the employee needs to care for a close relative. The two latter reasons cannot be claimed if another person capable of these responsibilities lives in the employee's household;
- the scheduling of working hours has to take account of an employee's needs regarding training courses or education;
- night-shift employees have to be given preference if they apply for daytime openings, even if a degree of retraining is required;
- the employer has to ensure that night-shift employees receive medical check-ups at regular intervals during their working time;
- works councils and employers are authorised to conclude works (that is, plant-level) agreements on the night-time employment of women. They have to include compensation for the arduous circumstances which must cover both women and men alike. Conditions may be added to the list under point 3; and
- any such works agreements will be legally binding only if agreed by the social partners concluding this collective agreement.
In an additional protocol, the compensatory measures referred to in point 7 are specified. These include paid breaks especially during heavy and monotonous work, a premium to be granted in the form of either money or time off in lieu (at the employee's choice), support for childcare facilities, provision of transport to and from work, provision of hot food and other similar measures. Furthermore, GMBE has stated that before concluding a works agreement it will insist on a 10% premium, paid breaks, childcare facilities, specification of the jobs affected, details of the shift system and the right to return to a daytime job. It will also advocate working time reductions, transport facilities, hot food and other conditions that seem sensible in the circumstances. This means that controversial debates surrounding the law and the collective agreement will be rekindled with each new works agreement.