Social partners prepare for the millenium

In preparing for the year 2000, employers in Austria have been focusing on the possibility of business failures arising from the "millenium bug", while the trade unions are emphasising the conditions they want to lay down for any extra work on New Year's Eve.

The Austrian government estimates that the total cost of the measures required across the country to meet the year 2000 lies in the range of between ATS 30 billion and ATS 60 billion. According to predictions made by the Credit Protection Association of 1870 (Kreditschutzverband von 1870, KSV), between 5% and 8% of Austrian firms will collapse in the aftermath of the "year 2000 problem" or "millenium bug" (the problems expected to hit computers when the date moves to 2000). KSV, with more than 20,000 members, is Austria's major credit protection and information agency. It estimates that over half of Austria's companies have not made any preparations and that less than one-fifth have already completed them. Of companies with an annual turnover of less than ATS 50 million, nearly two-thirds have done nothing. KSV believes that in most cases there will not now be enough time to come to terms with the problem before the end of 1999.

The government has equipped a bus to tour the country's business centres to distribute information on the problem. The Austrian Chamber of the Economy (Wirtschaftskammer Österreich, WKÖ) has called on the government to work out contingency plans for business failures. At the same time, WKÖ remains sceptical of the dire predictions.

The Union of Salaried Employees (Gewerkschaft der Privatangestellten, GPA), by contrast, has been less concerned with the business aftermath and rather more with the problem of employees being asked to work on New Year's Eve 1999. It is focusing on laying the groundwork for works agreements covering in particular on-call duty and bans on taking holidays. It wants timely information from employers, limits on extra hours for work required to deal with the millenium bug and extra recruitment instead of requests for overtime by regular employees. Regular employees should press for recruiting new staff as early as possible so that work schedules can be properly organised. The focus is on the computing industry, but only one company, Hewlett-Packard Austria, is currently known to be preparing a works agreement on the subject. There have not been any joint declarations or activities by the social partners.

Preparations for the change over to the euro single currency by non-bank enterprises are in an equally bad state, KSV reports. This, WKÖ contends, is less of a problem, since only about 15,000 of the country's 250,000 companies are exporters on a regular basis and a further 35,000 or so are importers or occasional exporters.

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