Thematic feature - social partner involvement in the 2003 NAP

This article examines social partner involvement in the preparation of Austria’s 2003 National Action Plan for employment drawn up in response to the EU Employment Guidelines.

The European Union'sEuropean employment strategy (EES) has been in operation since 1997 (EU9711168F). The strategy enables the coordination of national employment policies at EU level and one of its main components has been the adoption (on the basis of a proposal from theEuropean Commission) by theEuropean Council of a set of annual Employment Guidelines setting out common priorities for Member States' employment policies. The Member States then draw up annual National Action Plans (NAPs) which describe how these Guidelines are being put into practice nationally.

Following a review of the EES undertaken in 2002 after five years of operation (EU0209204F), and proposals for its streamlining, made by the Commission in aCommunication in September 2002 (EU0210206F), the strategy has now been renewed and simplified, with a stronger focus on implementation and a new timetable. In July 2003, the Council adopted the 2003Employment Guidelines (EU0308205F), which had been proposed by the Commission in April 2003. Compared with previous years, the Employment Guidelines have been revised so as to: ensure a stronger link with EU economic policy coordination (through streamlined timetables); lay down fewer guidelines with a broader perspective; provide a medium-term time horizon in order to achieve an increased emphasis on results and outcomes; and strengthen the involvement of the social partners, local authorities and other stakeholders.

The2003 Employment Guidelines to the Member States set out three main objectives:

  • full employment;
  • improving quality and productivity at work; and
  • strengthening social cohesion and inclusion.

While still maintaining the employment targets set at the Lisbon (EU0004241F) and Stockholm (EU0104208F)European Council meetings in 2000 and 2001, in order to achieve these three objectives the Guidelines focus on 10 policy priorities, rather than grouping a range of guidelines into four pillars, as has previously been the practice. These 10 priorities are

  1. active and preventative measures for the unemployed and inactive;
  2. job creation and entrepreneurship;
  3. address change and promote adaptability and mobility in the labour market;
  4. promote development of human capital and lifelong learning;
  5. increase labour supply and active ageing;
  6. gender equality;
  7. promote the integration of and combat the discrimination against people at a disadvantage in the labour market;
  8. make work pay through incentives to enhance work attractiveness;
  9. transform undeclared work into regular employment; and
  10. address regional employment disparities.

Under the revised EES, Member States still draw up NAPs setting out how the Employment Guidelines are being implemented. The NAPs present the progress achieved in the Member State over the past 12 months and the measures planned for the coming 12 months, and are thus both reporting and planning documents. The NAPs based on the 2003 Guidelines - which should have a stronger focus on implementation and the medium term - were due to be adopted in October 2003.

While national governments and public labour market authorities are mainly responsible for drawing up and implementing the NAPs, the role and the contribution of the social partners has been progressively emphasised as the EES has developed, acknowledging the fact that many issues addressed in the Employment Guidelines directly concern the social partners, and in many cases the collective bargaining process. The 2003 Guidelines include a section on'good governance and partnership' in their implementation, with Member States requested to ensure the effective implementation of the Guidelines, including at the regional and local level, and involve parliamentary bodies, social partners and other relevant actors. Good governance and partnership are seen as important issues for the implementation of the EES,'while fully respecting national traditions and practices'. With regard to the social partners, they should be invited at national level -'in accordance with their national traditions and practices'- to ensure the effective implementation of the Guidelines and to report on their most significant contributions in all areas under their responsibility, in particular concerning: the management of change and adaptability;'synergy' between flexibility and security;'human capital development'; gender equality; making work pay; active ageing; and health and safety at work. The European-level social partners at intersectoral and sectoral level are invited to contribute to the implementation of the Guidelines and to support efforts undertaken by the national social partners at all levels. As announced in theirjoint work programme for 2003-5 (EU0212206F), the European intersectoral social partners will report annually on their contribution to the implementation of the Guidelines. Furthermore, the European sectoral social partners are invited to report on their respective actions.

In October 2003, the EIRO national centres in each EU Member State, were asked, in response to a questionnaire, to outline how the social partners were involved in the preparation of their country's2003 NAP (a similar exercise was conducted in relation to the 2002 NAPs -AT0206201T). The Austrian responses are set out below (along with the questions asked).

Procedural aspects

1) Which organisations did the government consult on the preparation of the 2003 NAP? Were these organisations informed in time? Did they have enough time to react?

2) If the social partners have submitted their views, are these represented in the NAP?

3) Does the NAP include a chapter/part written by the social partners? Is the NAP a joint text? Did social partners sign the NAP?

4) What was the degree of consultation? Was the consultation important in substance or were social partners asked to say just'yes' or'no'?

In Austria’s system of social partnership, employers and employees are represented by a small circle of major organisations. On the employers’ side, these are the Chamber of the Economy (Wirtschaftskammer Österreich, WKÖ), the Standing Committee of Presidents of the Chambers of Agriculture (Präsidentenkonferenz der Landwirtschaftskammern, PKLWK) and the Federation of Austrian Industry (Vereinigung Österreichischer Industrieller, VÖI). On the employees’ side, these are the Chamber of Labour (Arbeiterkammer, AK) and the Austrian Trade Union Federation (Österreichischer Gewerkschaftsbund, ÖGB). All these organisations were - as in recent years - consulted by the government on the preparation of the 2003 NAP. However, since the PKLWK is only marginally involved in (macro-level) employment issues, this organisation's role is not dealt with further below.

All organisations state that they were consulted on the NAP in time and had enough time to react. They submitted their views on a draft version of the 2003 NAP. Interestingly, the final version of the 2003 NAP drawn up by the government - which was submitted to the European Commission at the beginning of October 2003 - was subsequently resubmitted only to the employers’ organisations. Therefore, only WKÖ and VÖI were able to examine whether their views and proposals are represented in the final 2003 NAP. Whereas VÖI expressed its satisfaction with the representation of its views and recommendations in the 2003 NAP, WKÖ found its positions only partially included in the final version. The employees’ organisations, which have not received the official, final version of the 2003 NAP from the government, complain that they have not even been informed by the government of whether their views have been taken into consideration and, if at all, to what extent they have been included. According to AK, the coalition government of the conservative People’s Party (Österreichische Volkspartei, ÖVP) and the populist Freedom Party (Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs, FPÖ) has, as in recent years, refused any substantial dialogue with organised labour on designing the NAP. Aside from the government’s formal consultation of the labour organisations (which took place only in written form), no further negotiations on the 2003 NAP were conducted.

The 2003 NAP is not a joint text but was drafted solely by the government and, after consultation of the social partners, reformulated by the government alone. As noted, after being completed it was resubmitted only to the employers’ organisations. WKÖ reported having been consulted by the government twice. As in 2002, the social partners were not requested by the government to contribute a chapter to the 2003 NAP, either individually or jointly. Thus, the whole 2003 NAP was solely drawn up by the government. The social partners are not signatory parties of the NAP.

Matters of policy content

1) To what extent were social partners involved at national (and/or regional/local) level, as mentioned under the'good governance and partnership' part of the Employment Guidelines?

a) Was a comprehensive partnership developed or not, and why? Have there been significant tripartite arrangements in view of implementing some or all of the Employment Guidelines?

b) How have the social partners at various levels implemented the Employment Guidelines - eg through collective bargaining, consultations, joint or unilateral actions etc - notably with regard to those aspects which are identified as their key responsibilities (where appropriate, taking into account the employment policy recommendations addressed by the EU to the Member States)? This should cover the following areas:

  • Management of change and adaptability
  • Synergy between flexibility and security, work-life balance
  • Human capital development
  • Gender equality
  • Making work pay
  • Inclusion and access to the labour market
  • Active ageing and increase in labour supply
  • Health, safety and well-being at work

2. What is the social partners’ assessment of the employment policy of the government?

3. Are there any gaps or any insufficiencies identified by the social partners in the NAP?

With regard to the 2003 Employment Guidelines’ target of'good governance and partnership' in their implementation, the Austrian social partners have been notably involved in the area of employment and labour market policy. The social partners’ participation in government employment policies is most strongly institutionalised in the Labour Market Service (Arbeitsmarktservice, AMS) which is the core instrument for realising labour market goals at national and regional level. However, it is important to note that since the formation of the conservative-populist coalition government in February 2000 the traditional consensual atmosphere of tripartite policy-making has been greatly disrupted. This is due to the government’s policy of restraining the influence of social partnership which, in particular, has forced labour representative organisations to resort to appealing to the public. This has resulted in serious political tensions between the government and organised labour such that - apart from various tripartite arrangements within the AMS - a comprehensive tripartite partnership on developing and realising the NAP and its goals could not be established.

In the area of'adaptability and mobility in the labour market' (guideline 3), two joint social partner initiatives have been recorded. The first refers to an amendment of the severance pay legislation which came into effect on 1 January 2003, in the form of the Employees’ Severance Pay and Pensions Fund Act (Betriebliches Mitarbeitervorsorgegesetz, BMVG). In preparation of this Act, the social partners agreed to replace the old scheme (whereby severance pay could be claimed only by retiring employees or those dismissed by the employer after at least three years' employment) by a scheme that is more up-to-date in terms of labour market mobility and fairness regarding entitlement (AT0207201N). The second relevant social partner initiative is a programme to promote employees’ health at company level. This initiative, which has jointly been launched by the social partners and some of Austria’s social security providers, aims to offer services to companies which should help them improve working conditions and thus their employees’ health and performance. This programme is based on voluntary participation by employers.

Moreover, with the planned introduction of a right to parental part-time work in 2004, the government has recently adopted a long-term demand of ÖGB, which aims to facilitate the work-life balance for parents of small children (AT0310201N). However, as suggested by WKÖ, this part-time work scheme will apply only to companies employing at least 20 employees.

As regards'increase of labour supply' and the promotion of'active ageing' (guideline 5), the employers’ organisations have notably contributed to a scheme reducing employers’ non-wage labour costs in respect of older employees. In order to retain older workers in employment, from 2004 onwards the social security contributions and levies to be paid by the employers will be reduced by 12.6% of gross pay in relation to the'standard' employee for employees older than 58 (women) and 60 (men).

Concerning'gender equality' (guideline 6), in 2002 the social partners, in line with the government's request, established a set of quantitatively specified goals to be pursued by AMS's labour market policies. These include the extension of training and qualification programmes for parents during and after parental leave and the establishment of special retraining courses and'mentoring' programmes for women.

The social partners differ considerably in their assessment of the employment policy of the government and the policy content of the 2003 NAP. The employers’ organisations, in general, support the government’s policy line and demand its continuation. WKÖ and VÖI criticise the NAP only in terms of details. For instance, VÖI demand substantial subsidies for companies’ research and developments investments in order to stimulate the overall economy. WKÖ calls for a further reduction of companies’ non-wage labour costs (in particular for employing people older than 50) (AT0310202F) and a further flexibilisation of labour law and working time regulations. By contrast, organised labour firmly opposes the labour market and employment policy currently conducted by the government and harshly criticises the 2003 NAP (as submitted in the draft version). Both ÖGB and AK accuse the government of neglecting the present stagnation of overall employment and the significant growth in unemployment, in particular concerning young and older employees. Both organisations consider the (draft) 2003 NAP incoherent and insufficient, in particular with regard to the concept of life-long learning, a perceived lack of sound migration and integration policies, and the problems of gender-related labour market segmentation and of the social exclusion of long-term unemployed people.


Please add here any other comments on the NAP, its procedures and its implementation.

As in 2002, the 2003 NAP arguably resembles an implementation report rather than an action plan in the genuine sense (AT0206201T). It describes a number of initiatives, measures and amendments introduced and adopted in 2002-3. In particular, much importance is attached to the legal framework of the pensions reform adopted in June 2003 and its prospective positive effects on the employment situation of (older) employees, a view which is heavily questioned by organised labour (AT0305201N).

Although the social partners were formally included in the drafting process of the 2003 NAP and were requested to comment on the first draft as in previous years, the real extent of social partner involvement was quite limited. As the labour organisations - in contrast to the employers’ organisations - stated that they were not reconsulted by the government after the NAP had been completed and submitted to the European Commission, the government appears to have adopted an'asymmetrical' consultation policy . This gives rise to concerns among employee representative organisations that the government has been continuing its attempts to cut back their influence in social policy matters. (Georg Adam, University of Vienna).

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