Equal treatment to be guaranteed for part-time employees

Because most part-time employees are women, a case brought against differential regulations on advancement in pay grades in Austrian pharmacies has proved successful, first at EU level in June 1998 and subsequently at national level in April 1999. Domestic legislation is now being drafted to redress the anomaly.

In 1993, some 300 female part-time employees in Austrian pharmacies - out of a total workforce of 3,200 - brought a court case seeking equal treatment. In pharmacies, two-thirds of employees work part time, and 95% of the part-timers are women. The minimum number of weekly working hours is eight (20% of the full-time week). Those who work full time move up one pay grade every second year, but part-time employees move up only in proportion to their working time. In other words, a "20%-employe"e moves up one pay grade only every 10 years. The Organisation of Employed Pharmacists in Austria (Organisation der Angestellten Apotheker Österreichs) considered this legal regulation - originally dating from 1928 and re-enacted in 1959 - to be in breach of EU rules on equal treatment for women and men. The European Court of Justice, to which the case was referred, agreed in June 1998 that there was discrimination, and the Austrian courts followed in April 1999. The additional costs arising from implementing the rulings will be moderate at an estimated ATS 11 million in compensation for income due to the pharmacy employees since June 1998 and about ATS 8 million per year from now on.

Legislation is being introduced to change the situation. A first draft is expected at the end of June but enactment of the new law is not expected before the general elections on 3 October 1999. The matter is complicated by parallel judicial developments regarding the legal basis of the Chamber of Pharmacists (Apothekerkammer) where the categories of employee and employer have been found to be insufficiently distinct and agreements concluded between them not legal.

The equal treatment ruling has wider implications. The 35,000 contract employees in the public service advance up the pay grades every other year if they work at least half time. It they work less than half time, again rare amongst men, they progress only in proportion to their working time. The savings banks had removed a similar regulation from their collective agreement a few years ago but they will now have to adapt their pensions regulations. Part-time employees were not granted the supplementary company pension (AT9901121F) to which full-time employees are entitled.

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