European Works Councils in Austria

According to the most recent estimates, there are about 330 companies active in Austria (both Austrian- and foreign-owned) which are covered by an obligation to set up European Works Councils. About 135 of these companies are thought to have complied by the end of 1998.

A new handbook published by the Austrian Federation of Trade Unions (Österreichischer Gewerkschaftsbund, ÖGB) suggests that there are about 40 Austrian-owned companies which will be obliged to have a European Works Council (EWC) under the terms of EU Council Directive 94/45/EC ("Der Europäische Betriebsrat. Handbuch des ÖGB und der Gewerkschaften", ["The European Works Council: Handbook of the ÖGB and the trade unions"], W Greif and C Eichbauer, Vienna (1999)). Of these companies, 15 had already complied by the end of 1998. This does not include non-EU companies with their EU headquarters located in Austria. Existing EWCs are concentrated in manufacturing, especially the metalworking industry and chemicals, and in construction.

Two Austrian companies formed EWCs in 1998 - ATB Austria Antriebstechnik AG and Vogel & Noot, both engineering companies based in the province of Styria. These were the first two based on Article 6 of the Directive (TN9807201S), and preparations are underway in early 1999 in a number of further Austrian companies. In addition, after a merger of two Swiss pharmaceuticals companies which had both had voluntary Article 13 agreements (Ciba-Geigy and Sandoz), the more employee-oriented of the two arrangements was reportedly adopted and further enhanced for the new corporation (Novartis), which has its EU headquarters in Austria.

According to research undertaken by the authors since the publication of the handbook, there are an estimated 120 EWC agreements in non-Austrian companies with one or more subsidiaries or EU headquarters in Austria. Not all of them have Austrian members on the EWC. There are estimated to be another 170 such companies subject to the Directive without an EWC at the end of 1998. About 230,000 employees in Austria - 7.5% of the total - work for transnational corporations, two-thirds of them in foreign-owned ones.

The Directive is applicable in 18 European countries (including the UK, which will formally be covered from December 1999). Of an estimated 1,500 companies currently falling within its ambit, the handbook reports that about 450 are now thought to have set up an EWC. Of the latter, about 90% existed before September 1996 (the date the Directive came into force).

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