Public service employment reform concluded

A compromise formula has been found in Austria to resolve a long drawn-out dispute over whether or not to retain tenure for top-level civil service positions. From 1 January 1999, non-tenured federal employees will have access to all positions. Reform of the salary system will become effective at the same time.

A long battle to start phasing out tenure in the Austrian public service came to an end on 4 December 1998. The Christian Democrat-dominated Public Service Trade Union (Gewerkschaft Öffentlicher Dienst, GÖD) had been pitched against the Social Democrat Federal Ministry of Finance (Bundesministerium für Finanzen, BMF), and the Christian Democrat Austrian People's Party (Österreichische Volkspartei, ÖVP) against the Austrian Social Democrat Party (Sozialdemokratische Partei Österreichs, SPÖ). The two parties are respectively the junior and senior partners in the coalition government. The BMF's declared goal was to limit tenure to a few areas vital to national security. The GÖD, however, was adamant that top civil service positions should be filled only by tenured employees of the state (AT9807198N).

The eventual solution was agreed between the political parties rather than between the government as employer and the trade union. Appointees to top-level positions may apply for tenure once they are in post. Ministers will define crucial second-level positions, and their incumbents will also be tenured, if they apply. In both cases, tenure will cover only disciplinary issues but not salaries and pensions. That is, they will be covered by the disciplinary regulations applying to tenured officials but they will remain within the salary structure of non-tenured officials.

Tenure without application - that is, automatic tenure in relation to disciplinary issues - will be granted to top officials in the Court of the Comptroller (Rechnungshof), the Ombudsman's office (Volksanwaltschaft), the administration of Parliament and in a number of designated embassies. As the agreement implies legal reform, Parliament will now have to be recalled if the changes are to become effective by 1 January 1999.

The GÖD had threatened a major demonstration in Vienna on 10 December, the eve of the European Council summit (EU9812141N), if the reform had still not been concluded by then. This was because reform of the salary system for non-tenured or so-called "contract employees", agreed long ago, was tied up with the reform of tenure.

In addition, on 2 December 1998, the government and GÖD agreed to raise civil service salaries by 2.5% from 1 January 1999. GÖD had initially demanded 3.7%, while the government's offer had been 1.9%. Civil service pensions will be raised by 1.5%.

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