Holiday working controversy

In 1998, Austria's 8 December public holiday is increasingly embattled, since it is in the middle of the Christmas shopping season. The law permits employment in shops on a voluntary basis and mandates double pay, while a collective agreement sets further conditions. Nonetheless, representatives of employees' organisations remain opposed.

Closely related to the current Sunday working controversy (AT9811111N) is that of working on religious holidays, most prominently the long-running dispute over keeping shops open on 8 December (the day of the Immaculate Conception). This Catholic holiday has been under attack from shopkeepers for years, particularly but not exclusively in border areas, because shoppers use the holiday for excursions to Bavaria, Italy and Hungary. Manufacturing sectors are not involved in this dispute, as here establishments have been facing fewer and fewer difficulties in obtaining trade union consent for work on Sundays and holidays and, citing technological necessity, have always been able to run continuous production processes. As in the case of Sunday working, the shopkeepers' vocal opponents are the trade unions and the Catholic church, though a significant group of the shopkeepers themselves would prefer competitors not to have any choice about staying closed. The Union of Salaried Employees (Gewerkschaft der Privatangestellten, GPA), in unison with the Chamber of Labour (Arbeiterkammer, AK), has been adamant that opening on religious holidays or, for that matter, on Sundays or even Saturday afternoons does not increase turnover.

Nonetheless, the GPA and the Austrian Chamber of the Economy (Wirtschaftskammer Österreich, WKÖ), after a legal amendment in 1995 had created the option, concluded an open-ended sectoral agreement on 4 December 1997. This allowed shops to be open on 8 December, if it was not a Sunday, from 10.00 to 18.00. Employees have to be notified by 10 November and have one week to refuse to work. On public holidays, workers who do not work get paid anyway, and so by law if they work on 8 December, they are paid double. In addition, the collective agreement stipulates four paid hours off in return for working up to four hours, and eight hours for work of more than four hours.

The president of the Carinthia n Chamber of Labour on 7 November 1998 appealed to the public to refrain from shopping on 8 December.

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