Unrest continues in postal services

In June 1998, renewed threats of industrial action were issued in Austrian postal services, where a dispute over staffing levels has broken out again. The first 10 days of July seemed the likely time for the dispute to come to a head.

The threat of a strike in the Austrian Post Office remains alive. Although a settlement in disputes over staffing (AT9805183F) had been announced in May 1998 (AT9805190N), the conflict erupted again in June.

The Union of Posts and Telecommunication Employees (Gewerkschaft der Post- und Fernmeldebediensteten) has demanded the filling of 1,000 staff positions, some of which could be achieved by transferring temporary workers into permanent staff positions. At the same time, the union insists that all the 4,800 employees who applied for early retirement under the Post Office's staff reduction scheme (AT9711147N) should leave the service on the designated dates. Management, however, has decided to keep some of these employees longer - more than 500 in mail distribution, for example. It argues that the early retirement scheme costs ATS 9,000 million and that it will not spend another ATS 470 million on hiring new staff because the Post Office - in its new-found role as an enterprise - cannot afford to do so. Management further argues that annual turnover per employee is only ATS 500,000 in Austrian postal services, while it stands at ATS 600,000 in Germany and ATS 1,000,000 in Switzerland. The reason for these enormous differences in productivity is simple: the Austrian Post Office was in the past used to absorb as much labour as possible. Thus, investment was put off in favour of hiring more staff. Management, in the run-up to the public flotation, now has marked problems in devising investment strategies and implementing them.

The trade union issued an ultimatum for noon on 26 June. If there were no agreement on the additional staff, industrial action would follow. However, in the afternoon of 26 June both the union and management stated that negotiations would continue. One of the bones of contention is the freight and overland bus service in Vienna: one element of management allegedly wants to "outsource" transportation and sell the bus service. On 30 June, trade union officials and management were due to meet over the issue, though not in a formal negotiating format. The union expected no substantial concessions and warned that "staff meetings with strike character" could be called immediately thereafter. The next stage would still be short of a strike but would amount to paralysing parts of the bus service. This would, the union announced, not take place until schools had broken up for the summer (from 6 July). The week of 6 July is also when a full-scale strike of all 58,000 employees could take place. This will depend on the decisions taken at a nationwide conference of Post Office works council chairs on 29-30 June.

Participants from Austria's westernmost provinces indicated to the press that they might not support a national strike because, as they had supported investment in the past, they had no grievance now, and did not want to have to bear the consequences of an unwillingness to reform among their eastern colleagues. They would strike only after a positive vote in a staff ballot. Viennese trade union officials maintained that a decision on strike measures in at least the three eastern provinces was very likely.

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