Unions table 25 demands for works constitution reform

In April 1998, Austrian trade unions published 25 separate demands for reforming the Works Constitution Act - a cornerstone of the country's labour legislation. Employers' organisations are outraged, fearing a substantial loss of their decision-making powers in the enterprise. The success of negotiations is in the balance.

The Works Constitution Act (Arbeitsverfassungsgesetz, ArbVG) is a key piece of industrial relations legislation. It regulates collective agreements, minimum wages, rights and duties of employees and works councils, as well as sanctions. Originally enacted in 1974, it has since undergone 27 sets of amendments. In April 1998, the Austrian Trade Union Federation (Österreichischer Gewerkschaftsbund, ÖGB) presented a list of 25 demands for a further set of changes in 1998. These include:

  • a general right of access for trade union representatives to any establishment which is under a legal obligation to form a works council, that is, any establishment with five or more employees;
  • an entitlement to wages during staff meetings and time off for trade union meetings or collective bargaining sessions;
  • a quota for women on the works council, and eligibility for third-country nationals to sit on councils (AT9802168N);
  • better entitlement to information, more rights of control and a wider range of issues on the basis of which a works council's demand for a works agreement must be granted;
  • better protection against dismissal;
  • transfer of employees from one collective agreement to another (for instance from banking to retail) to act as a trigger for collective measures of social protection (Sozialplan) which are currently reserved for mass dismissals or plant closures;
  • more paid time off and better employment protection for works council members, their deputies and designated group spokespersons; and
  • legally defined procedures on the classification of employers by industry in the Chamber of the Economy and a legal definition of the term "employer".

Employers' organisations, predictably, reacted with outrage. They are particularly opposed to the rights of access, the classification issue and the greater range of issues on which a demand for a works agreement cannot be denied. The latter, they fear, could mean that the introduction of teleworking or performance-related pay schemes would require the formal consent of the works council. It could also mean that employers would no longer be able to refuse the introduction of measures to facilitate the combination of work and family and women's careers.

Negotiations are underway at the Ministry of Labour (Bundesministerium für Arbeit, Gesundheit und Soziales, BMAGS). Draft legislation is expected some time in autumn 1998, but employers have already threatened not to negotiate the list or to counter it with an equally controversial list of their own.

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