Negotiations to cover temporary agency workers underway

A collective agreement covering wage-earning temporary agency workers whilst not actually hired out to user companies is under negotiation in Austria, but remains elusive. Meetings between the social partners on the issue resumed in May 1999.

A collective agreement to cover wage earners employed by temporary work agencies whilst not actually hired out to user companies became an important demand of the Austrian Trade Union Federation (Österreichischer Gewerkschaftsbund, ÖGB) during the 1990s. At the beginning of July 1998, there were 20,772 agency workers hired out by 742 agencies to 6,408 employers. While this number was very small it had risen from 8,000 since the summer of 1989. The salary earners amongst the agency workers - 18% of the total - are covered by a collective agreement, but the wage earners are not. The main issue is the wage whilst not actually hired out, and a somewhat lesser issue is the specification of wage entitlements once working for an employer.

In 1997, the Metals, Mining and Energy Trade Union (Gewerkschaft Metall-Bergbau-Energie, GMBE) and the General Crafts and Trades Association in the Austrian Chamber of the Economy (Wirtschaftskammer Österreich, WKÖ) began to negotiate. More than 80% of the temporary agency workers are employed in the metalworking sector. Meetings took place intermittently and progress was scant. In autumn 1998, GMBE set a deadline of "early 1999" for the beginning of serious negotiations. There was an inconclusive meeting on 18 May 1999, but GMBE continues to hope for an agreement over summer 1999. Reaching an agreement would mean that wage earners would be covered by a GMBE-negotiated agreement with agencies whilst not hired out, and by the sectoral agreement pertaining to the company employing them once at work.

Until the mid-1980s, the trade unions wanted temporary agency work outlawed. Since then, they have come to a grudging acceptance, especially since the matter was legally regulated in 1988, even though some of the key clauses are vague. They argue that it substitutes for permanent employment rather than complementing it, as it should. They also dislike it because works councils are not formally competent to cover the interests of temporary agency workers but nevertheless end up mediating in disputes between them and their employer. At the same time, any existing works council in an agency has no access to agency workers whilst they are at work for a company.

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