New trade union founded

The Austrian Free Trade Union (FGÖ), founded on 1 May 1998, pitches itself against the monopoly that the ÖGB union confederation had previously enjoyed. Its future will, however, hinge on whether or not it is granted the right to conclude collective agreements.

The long-announced founding of a new trade union outside the Austrian Trade Union Federation (Österreichischer Gewerkschaftsbund, ÖGB) has now occurred (AT9802166N). On 1 May 1998, in a small town outside Vienna, the Austrian Free Trade Union (Freie Gewerkschaft Österreichs, FGÖ) was officially founded and a 34-year-old police officer was elected as its chair. The union's main promoter over the past two years chose not to stand for election but to retain instead his seat in Parliament. The new union is closely related to the right-wing populism of the Austrian Freedom Party (Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs, FPÖ) whose main politicians spoke at the founding ceremonies.

The FGÖ membership fee is a minimum of ATS 20 per month, as compared with the ÖGB's 1% of gross income. Membership with services, primarily legal advice, costs ATS 100. However, the FGÖ does yet have the right to conclude collective agreements. An application to the Federal Conciliation Office (Bundeseinigungsamt) is being made in respect of a number of industries, and a decision is expected in autumn 1998. The new trade union has to meet three vague criteria: a broad professional and geographical base; economic significance due to the number of members and the scope of activity; and independence from employer organisations. The Office's chair said in an interview that union members in the public service, for instance police officers, would not count because in the public service there are no collective agreements, only legal regulations. The FGÖ has announced that it will focus its recruitment activities on the police and on sales and clerical personnel. Among the latter, "semi-self employed" professionals will be targeted. The metalworking industry was also once mentioned. The goal is to recruit 100,000 members in three or four years. The current membership is said to be about 6,000.

The ÖGB reacted by denouncing the new trade union in no uncertain terms. Among other points, it recalled a request for donations that the incipient union had mailed to enterprises, in which it had stressed its intention to represent the interests of management and workers alike. A week earlier it had launched a booklet detailing the history of trade unions in inter-war Austria but which emphasised in particular the role of "yellow" unions - that is, trade unions that stressed a harmony of interest between employees and employers. The ÖGB announced in February 1998 that dual membership with FGÖ would not be possible.

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