New law aims to promote labour market integration of disabled people

New legislation came into effect in Austria on 1 January 1999 that aims to increase both the quota of positions in organisations earmarked for workers with disabilities and the funds available to increase their employability on the open labour market. An element designed to prevent the possible onset of disability has also been included.

Under Austrian law, all companies are required to employ one worker with a disability for every 24 non-disabled workers. However, by ministerial directive various industries have enjoyed degrees of exemption. For instance, until the end of 1998, government employers at all levels had to hire only one in 33 and construction and roofing only one in 50. In 1998, these regulations provided for 68,839 jobs, though only about 60% of these were actually filled by disabled people. Some employers preferred instead to pay ATS 2,010 a month for each unfilled position into a national compensation fund, a figure which has risen to ATS 2,040 in 1999. Furthermore, a number of federal ministries have not filled their quotas. These include the Ministries of Education (teachers), of the Interior (police), of Transportation, of Justice and of Defence.

People with disabilities enjoy a degree of protection against dismissal. At each of the provincial "Offices of Disabled People" (Landesinvalidenamt) there is a "committee on disabled people" (Behindertenausschuß) which has to agree to any dismissal. The committee comprises three representatives from organisations representing people with disabilities, one representative each from employer and employee organisations and one representative from the Public Employment Service (Arbeitsmarktservice, AMS). It is chaired by an official from the Office of Disabled People. Decisions are taken essentially by majority vote. There are about 500 applications per year, and only 10% result in a decision in favour of the employer and another 10% in favour of the employee. In the remaining 80% of cases, the committee ends up acting as mediator.

At the end of September 1998 38,614 disabled people were unemployed, roughly 3,000 more than a year earlier. The number was only 28,395 in 1995. There are currently 72,889 disabled people who are entitled to a job. The law calls them "favoured disabled people" (begünstigte Behinderte). Favoured status requires Austrian citizenship, or citizenship of another Member State of the European Economic Area (EEA), or the status of a permanently resident refugee, and a disability level of at least 50%. Favoured disabled people are not obliged to reveal their status when applying for a job or thereafter.

Compensation fund

The compensation fund (Ausgleichstaxenfonds) in the past received between ATS 650 million and ATS 700 million per year from employers not filling their quota of disabled employees. New legislation (see below) is expected to raise contributions by between ATS 50 million and ATS 70 million, or about 10%.

The fund provides loans or subsidies towards: the creation of jobs; the wage and training costs of newly hired disabled workers; the installation of equipment facilitating the employment of disabled workers; further and ongoing training; social security contributions, under specific conditions; or the creation of self-employment. The subsidies may be paid for: Austrian citizens, citizens of EEA Member States and permanently resident refugees with a degree of disability of at least 30%; and third-country nationals with a degree of disability of at least 50%. In all cases, residence in Austria is required (that is, an Austrian national resident in Germany cannot be subsidised). There is no legal limit to either the duration or the amount of the subsidies.

Until the end of 1998 the fund also paid a subsidy to companies employing more than their quota of people with disabilities. In 1998 this amounted to ATS 715 per month for each additional disabled worker. From 1999, however, this money is being used to finance work assistance.

The minister of labour, health and welfare administers the fund in conjunction with a commission comprising six representatives from organisations of disabled people, three from the provinces, six from the national-level social partners and one from the Ministry of Finance.

New legislation

New legislation promoting the labour market integration of people with disabilities was passed in December 1998, effective from 1 January 1999. It was aimed partly at the creation and implementation of measures to improve their employability and partly at increasing the number of jobs or, alternatively, contributions to the compensation fund. The amendments to the Disabled Employment Act (Behinderteneinstellungsgesetz), first passed in 1970 and much revised since, include the following provisions:

  • like enterprises, government will henceforth have to fill a quota of one disabled person for every 25 employees;
  • industries such as construction and roofing are having their degree of exemption from the disabled employment quota reduced to one in 40 immediately, and the one in 25 norm will be phased in over the next few years. This can be carried out by ministerial directive. The employers affected are expected mostly to pay into the compensation fund rather than to hire;
  • apprentices will no longer be counted against the quota;
  • the monthly subsidy to companies employing more than their quota of disabled people has been removed;
  • the law now explicitly specifies ongoing support on the job as a means of raising "employability". This function will be carried out by so-called work assistants who will be responsible for finding feasible employment and for counselling employers and employees on how to achieve optimum productivity;
  • measures to make disabled people more employable on the general labour market now receive greater emphasis in law;
  • a provision makes it possible for the compensation fund to subsidise equipment preventing the onset of disability, if an employee is in serious danger;
  • protection against dismissal starts after three months' employment instead of one; and
  • the law now sets out a list of examples that outline the conditions under which the committee on disabled people is likely to agree to a dismissal. The list is modelled on the grounds that make the dismissal of a works council member lawful. The courts have traditionally regarded this as the outer bounds of protection against dismissal.

Commentary

The social partners compromised on the new legislation. Relaxing protection against dismissal was opposed by the trade unions, and relaxing it only so little was opposed by employers. Partly to raise the levy and partly to redirect revenue from the compensation fund also represents a compromise. Furthermore, compromise must be seen in the combination of measures intended to increase the number of designated positions and to increase the employability of people with disabilities.

Only the test of time will show how well the ministry, the organisations of disabled people, the social partners and the legislators performed in drafting the new rules. To some observers it appears likely that a trend towards non-market employment, as evidenced in the ways a short-term oversupply of apprentices was countered in 1997 and 1998 (AT9807197F), is being reinforced in the employment of disabled people. However, this is not an area where merely short-term measures are feasible. A contrast may be drawn with the measures governing apprenticeships. There spending was raised rapidly, precisely on an expectation that it would be short term. Here it is being raised moderately and clearly with a view to long-term sustainability. (August Gächter, IHS)

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