Number of disabled people in employment remains low
Under Austrian labour law, each employer with at least 25 employees is obliged to employ one disabled person for every 25 people employed. However, available data indicate that the country’s employers, including those in the public sector, are significantly lagging behind in meeting this obligation. Meanwhile, the social partners have failed to reach agreement on whether or not to introduce special incentives for employers who follow the rules or fines for employers who fail to comply with such obligations, in order to increase the employment levels of disabled people.
According to statistics from the Federal Ministry of Social Security, Generations and Consumer Protection (Bundesministerium für Soziale Sicherheit, Generationen und Konsumentenschutz, BMSG), a number of private and public sector organisations are failing to fulfil their obligations in relation to employing people with disabilities. Available data indicate that, in 2005, only 90% and 64%, respectively, of jobs reserved for disabled people in the public sector and in the overall economy (including the private and public sectors) were filled appropriately.
Employment provisions for disabled people
In Austria, legislative protection for disabled people aims at enabling such persons to obtain or retain employment. Under the Disabled Persons Employment Act (Behinderteneinstellungsgesetz, BEinstG), each employer regularly employing at least 25 people is obliged to employ one disabled person for every 25 people employed. If this quota is not filled, the employer concerned must pay a compensatory tax (Ausgleichstaxe) in respect of each disabled person to be employed; this tax currently amounts to €206 per month. These payments are channelled into a special fund, which is used to establish measures to help integrate disabled people into the workforce. In 2005, the fund accumulated €76.5 million.
Protection against dismissal
People with certain disabilities, which limit their capacity to carry out particular tasks, are generally at a disadvantage when trying to secure an appropriate job; as a result, they receive special protection by the state against dismissal. Accordingly, an employer may not dismiss a disabled employee without prior consent from the Committee for Disabled Persons (Behindertenausschuss) of the relevant regional office of the Federal Welfare Agency (Bundessozialamt, BSA). According to a BMSG representative, between 400 and 500 applications for the dismissal of disabled workers are filed each year. In about 80% of these cases, the employment relationship is eventually concluded by mutual agreement. The BSA makes the final decision in only 20% of cases. Moreover, the BSA rejects an employer’s application to dismiss a disabled employee in only about 40 to 50 cases each year.
As set out in the BEinstG, not every type of disability entitles the individual to be recognised as a disabled person. It is necessary to apply to the BSA in order to be officially recognised as a disabled person. Only applicants assessed by the authority as suffering from at least 50% disablement are classed as eligible to benefit from the act’s protective provisions. The degree of disablement is assessed as the percentage of jobs in the overall economy that are not appropriate to be filled by a disabled person. However, in accordance with this definition, the degree of disablement does not take into account the real working capacity of a disabled individual at their actual place of work. For example, a disabled employee may – at their adjusted place of work – have an equal working capacity compared with people without any disability.
In 2005, about 91,000 people were registered as being disabled in Austria, of whom about two thirds were employed and some 31,000 were economically inactive or mostly unemployed. Of the approximately 85,000 jobs which should be reserved for disabled persons in line with the BeinstG stipulations, about one third are not filled at present; therefore, the obligatory compensatory tax must be paid by the respective employers. On the other hand, about 10,000 disabled persons are voluntarily employed by companies that do not fall under the quota obligation due to the small size of their workforce. These employers are, in turn, paid a certain premium for offering jobs to disabled individuals.
Although the BMSG statistics reveal a much higher degree of compliance with the statutory quota requirements among public sector employers in comparison with private sector employers, public criticism is mainly directed at the public sector. In general, people consider that the public sector should set a good example, in particular when it comes to the enforcement of anti-discrimination laws. In 2005, five out of 10 federal ministries and six out of nine regional (Länder) governments failed to meet the quota obligations with respect to disabled persons. Against this background, organisations representing disabled people have called for a significant increase in the level of compensatory tax for employers failing to abide by the laws; they also recommend abolishing the possibility for public sector employers to pay their way out of neglecting quota regulations with respect to disabled persons.
Views of social partners
In recent years, the relevant social partners have begun to acknowledge the importance of measures aimed at placing disabled people in employment. For instance, the Chamber of the Economy (Wirtschaftskammer Österreich, WKÖ) and the Austrian Trade Union Federation (Österreichischer Gewerkschaftsbund, ÖGB) have launched a number of joint initiatives and organised a series of joint events aimed at helping disabled people to move into or remain in work. However, the social partners are more divided in terms of devising detailed proposals on how to improve the situation. While the WKÖ wants to extend subsidies for enterprises offering protected employment, the trade unions demand a significant increase in the compensatory tax to the level of the minimum wage as stipulated in the applicable collective agreement. Moreover, the ÖGB and the Chamber of Labour (Arbeiterkammer, AK) want to amend the Austrian labour law such that collective agreements at company level may be concluded only after addressing employment issues in respect of disabled people. However, the demands put forward by the trade unions are not likely to be realised in the near future.
Georg Adam, Institute of Industrial Sociology, University of Vienna