New collective agreements concluded in metalworking

In late October 2001, the social partners in Austria's metalworking industry agreed on a minimum pay increase of 3.0%, which exceeds the inflation rate for 2001. The 'distribution option' introduced in earlier collective agreements, which allows for increased company-level pay flexibility, was not maintained in the metalworking sector, but was introduced in the electrical and electronics subsector, which for the first time concluded a separate agreement.

On 22 October 2001, the social partners successfully concluded a new collective agreement for the pattern-setting metalworking sector (AT9912207F), which comprises 158,000 blue-collar workers and 53,000 white-collar workers. Under the deal, minimum pay rates will increase by 3.0%, which is above the anticipated average inflation rate of 2.6% for 2001. The new monthly minimum pay rate will thus stand at ATS 16,346 (EUR 1,187.92). Actual pay must be raised by 2.9% and at least by ATS 600 (EUR 43.60) per month. These pay agreements are valid for both blue- and white-collar workers and took effect from 1 November 2001 onwards.

In contrast to previous years, the new metalworking agreement does not include a 'distribution option' (Verteiloption), whereby companies may - on the basis of a works agreement between management and works council - allocate part of the pay increase flexibly to particular groups of workers, in return for awarding a greater total pay increase (AT0101240F). 'There is nothing left to distribute,' commented a representative of the Chamber of the Economy (Wirtschaftskammer Österreich, WKÖ) employers' organisation.

Only two days after the metalworking agreement was signed, negotiations covering about 60,000 employees in the electrical and electronics industries were brought to a successful conclusion. In this subsector - which bargained separately from the metalworking sector for the first time in 2001 (AT0110201N) - the employers sought in vain to replace the regular annual wage increase with a more flexible performance-related pay system. Instead, the agreement for the electrical and electronics industries more or less followed the metalworking settlement, with a minimum pay increase of 3.0% and an actual pay rise of 2.9%. However, actual pay must be increased by at least ATS 650 (EUR 47.24) per month, which is ATS 50 more than in the metalworking sector.

Unlike the agreement for the metalworking sector, the social partners in the electrical and electronics industries agreed on a 'distribution option', which allows companies to distribute flexibly at least 0.5% of the paybill among certain employee groups on the basis of a works agreement between management and works council. This means that companies can choose either to raise total pay by 2.9%, or to increase total pay by at least 2.7% while distributing at least 0.5% or ATS 650 in line with criteria of high performance. Although these customised pay structures are meant to take into account the dynamics of the electronics branch, representatives of the relevant subsection of WKÖ state that the agreed pay increase might turn out to be too high, given the poor economic forecasts.

Overall, the metalworking negotiations were extremely difficult. This was mainly due to the ambivalent economic context. Until recently, the Austrian economy was prospering. Forecasts, however, suggest a marked slowdown. In addition, the negotiations were overshadowed by the continued conflict between government and the Austrian Trade Union Federation (Österreichischer Gewerkschaftsbund, ÖGB) (AT0111201F). Against this background, the chief negotiators of the trade unions in metalworking - the blue-collar Metalworking and Textiles Union (Gewerkschaft Metall-Textil, GMT) and the Union of Salaried Employees (Gewerkschaft der Privatangestellten, GPA) - as well as their counterparts in the industry section of WKÖ, praised the settlement as a strong sign of life in social partnership, in that an acceptable result for both sides could be reached even in difficult situations.

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