Chamber of the Economy envisages further reform steps
After thoroughgoing restructuring of the Chamber of the Economy (WKÖ) in the first half of the decade, which has culminated in a reduction of compulsory membership dues by 30%, the Chamber leadership plans to take a further reform step beginning in 2007. The aim is to introduce a more streamlined organisational structure, a further reform of the system of membership dues and an amendment to the current system of voting rights for the member firms.
On 24 November 2005, the general assembly of the Chamber of the Economy (Wirtschaftskammer Österreich, WKÖ) adopted an agreement on further reform steps in respect of the Chamber which had been reached by the body’s leadership a few days before. Interestingly, all competing factions (which are represented within the WKÖ bodies) affiliated to one of the political parties in parliament - except for the faction affiliated to the Green Party (Die Grünen, GRÜNE) - voted in favour of the draft reform programme.
The first reform step was initiated in 2000, when the then new president of WKÖ, Christoph Leitl, who is also the chair of the influential Österreichischer Wirtschaftsbund (ÖWB), the business organisation affiliated to the Austrian People’s Party (Österreichische Volkspartei, ÖVP), had pledged himself to substantial reforms of the Chamber during his electoral campaign (AT0009230F). As a consequence, a substantial reform of Austria’s main employers’ organisation (of which membership is obligatory) has been realised, based on a broad consent of almost all factions represented within the WKÖ’s bodies. The key goal of the reform initiative has been to reduce membership dues by 30% and to economise on resources to the same extent (AT0105215N). In order to reach this goal, activities and tasks have been more efficiently distributed among the chamber’s subunits, the number of administrative departments has been reduced, foreign trade offices have been closed, and staff have been reduced by several hundreds of persons.
Since membership dues had actually been reduced by about 30%, the WKÖ leadership has envisaged a further reform step aimed at a thoroughgoing restructuring of the organisation. Thereby, the focus is on further improving efficiency and on creating an organisational structure which more appropriately reflects the business reality within it, in particular in regard of its sectoral and sub-sectoral units. The plan is to reduce the number of sectoral subunits (Fachverbände) from currently 128 to about 80, depending on membership numbers and the capacity of self-financing. Moreover, the system of membership dues shall be rendered more fairly by dropping multiple basic membership dues (Mehrfach-Grundumlagen) payable by one and the same company because of compulsory multiple subunit memberships. Aside from this, the WKÖ leadership plans to amend the present system of voting rights for the Chamber’s member companies. The current system tends to favour strong factions like the ÖWB to the detriment of smaller groupings.
In order to develop criteria for the further restructuring of the WKÖ bodies and for the alteration of the voting rights, Mr Leitl announced the establishment of two separate working groups which are devised to make proposals by June 2006. It remains to be seen whether the consensual atmosphere demonstrated at a joint press conference held by the chairs of the main factions represented in the WKÖ presidium on 23 November 2005 will maintain until 2006, when relevant decisions are planned to be taken. First reform steps shall come into effect in 2007.
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