First collective agreement for universities signed

In 2002, Austrian universities were given the right to bargain as a result of their change of status from public authorities to that of corporations with legal capacity. After four years of negotiations, the National University Federation and the Union of Public Employees concluded the sector’s first collective agreement, which is expected to come into effect by 2008.

Like several other former public authorities (AT0307203F, AT0203202F), Austrian universities changed from the status of a public authority to the status of a corporation with legal capacity in 2002 – a system known as Ausgliederung. Restructuring of the universities has thus led to semi-private, ‘hybrid’ employment relations, since the civil servants who were appointed before restructuring have maintained their public law employment status, whereas employees who have been employed since 1 January 2004 are recruited under a private law employment contract. The University Act 2002 (Universitätsgesetz) on university restructuring introduced the private sector model of industrial relations, by equipping the newly-established National University Federation (Dachverband der österreichischen Universitäten) as the umbrella employer organisation with the right to bargain.

Social partner representation

The newly-formed National University Federation is comprised of 21 universities as defined by the University Act 2002 (in German). The directorate of the universities each nominates one delegate to join the federation. The federation is authorised to represent employers’ interests in collective bargaining negotiations on behalf of the universities.

With respect to trade union representation, restructuring of Austria’s universities and thus the replacement of the unilateral state regulation of wages and working conditions through collective bargaining has had no significant effect. In some former public services, private sector trade unions have successfully claimed representation in the ‘liberalised’ sectors (AT0606019Q). In contrast, the Union of Public Services (Gewerkschaft Öffentlicher Dienst, GÖD) as the traditional trade union covering public authorities of the central state administration has so far managed to maintain its representational monopoly with regard to university staff, even under the new regime of private sector collective bargaining.

Collective agreement

After four years of intense negotiations between the federation and GÖD, the two parties managed to achieve a compromise by concluding the first ever collective agreement in the university sector in mid February 2007, a draft of which was eventually signed on 13 April 2007. However, the document still needs to be adopted by the relevant bodies of both social partner organisations. At the same time, the federation and GÖD will jointly enter negotiations with the Federal Ministry of Science and Research (Bundesministerium für Wissenschaft und Forschung, BMWF) and the Federal Ministry of Finance (Bundesministerium für Finanzen, BMF) in order to guarantee the financing of the additional estimated costs of €50 million a year which will emerge when it comes to implementing the collective agreement’s provisions.

New provisions

The collective agreement provides for a range of changes to the employment relationships of both scientific and non-scientific university personnel.

  • With regard to the scientific staff, the US-based system of the ‘tenure track’ will be introduced, in that junior academics will be offered tenured positions as ‘assistant professors’. If an assistant professor fulfils their obligations in terms of both research and teaching within a certain period of up to six years laid down in an individual ‘qualification agreement’, they will become an ‘associate professor’ for an unlimited period, thus receiving increased protection against dismissal. Candidates will continue to be appointed to the position of full professor through a special appointment procedure.
  • With respect to personnel in administration and general services, the collective agreement will replace the current intricate job classification system with a more transparent classification and pay increments scheme. The new system will set out eight newly-designed grades covering all administrative and non-scientific service staff. Notably, the starting pay will be considerably higher than it is under the present scheme; however, the subsequent pay increments will be lower. Moreover, some variable increments are provided to workers in the case of outstanding performance.
  • A new occupational pension scheme will be introduced for all employees: in addition to the statutory pensions system, the employer will have to contribute 3% of an employee’s gross income to an occupational pension fund administered by the university concerned.
  • In order to promote qualification levels among all university staff, the agreement stipulates the possibility for workers to pursue further training and to take sabbatical leave.
  • The agreement seeks to establish a balanced system of performance-related incentives on the one hand and social security on the other. Correspondingly, lecturers will benefit from increased protection against dismissal after a period of 20 years of service or after 15 and 10 years of service provided that the employee is aged over 45 and 50 years, respectively. However, all lecturers and even professors will be subject to ongoing evaluation. In the event of two subsequent negative evaluations, the university will be entitled to dismiss the employee concerned.

The collective agreement is expected to come into force in 2008 at the latest.

Georg Adam, Institute of Industrial Sociology, University of Vienna

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