Metalworking makes little use of customised pay structures

The "distribution option" was an innovation developed in the 1997 Austrian pay bargaining round, designed to increase the pay of targeted groups of workers and thereby encourage organisations to customise their pay structures. When tried out again in autumn 1998, the option seems to have met with less enthusiasm than before, according to information released in February 1999.

In the collective agreement for the industrial metalworking sector signed in October 1998, the "distribution option" (Verteiloption) model developed in 1997 (AT9710138N) was tried again. Actual wages were to rise by 2.9% from 1 November 1998, unless individual companies chose instead to raise them by 2.7% and distribute an additional 0.5% of their total paybill to designated groups of employees, primarily younger and female workers and key staff (AT9810108N). Using this option, total pay rises could amount to 3.2%. Companies had to take a decision on whether or not to use the distribution option before 20 December 1998.

Data released by the Metals, Mining and Energy Trade Union (Gewerkschaft Metall-Bergbau-Energie, GMBE) reveal that only 100 of the 2,276 industrial manufacturing companies in Austria had so far chosen the distribution (or "band-width") option by February 1999. However, only 791 plants had reported on their works agreements. Employers claim that they cannot afford the 3.2% pay increase and are thus forgoing the opportunity to customise their wage structures. The 100 companies which have chosen the option employ about 20,400 of the 153,000 wage earners to whom the agreement applies. The share of employees is therefore much greater than that of companies. One year previously, by February 1998, 144 companies of those 1,250 reporting had chosen the option (AT9801155F).

Meanwhile, GMBE has pledged to narrow the differential between minimum and actual wages. The latter tend to be 30% or 40% more than the former. The gap is a remnant of the time when piece rates were common. The union believes that the situation invites the gradual erosion of actual wages, since every year half the labour force changes jobs and may be paid less in their new position.

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