More flexible working time rules introduced

In August 2007, the Austrian parliament passed an amendment to the Working Time Act which provides for greater working time flexibility and gives part-time workers a legal claim to premium rates of pay for overtime. While the social-democratic–conservative coalition government and the social partners enthusiastically approve of the new working time legislation, parliamentary opposition and the union groups linked to them have expressed reservations.

On 1 August 2007, the Austrian parliament (Nationalrat) endorsed an amendment to the Working Time Act (Arbeitszeitgesetz, AZG) with support only from members of the coalition government parties. The amendment, which was based on a draft bill jointly presented by the social partners on 3 May 2007, provides for greater working time flexibility. The new legislation also adopted almost all of the proposals presented in the working time chapter of the government programme (Regierungsprogramm 2007–2010 (in German, 415Kb PDF)) of the coalition government of the Social Democratic Party (Sozialdemokratische Partei Österreichs, SPÖ) and the conservative Austrian People’s Party (Österreichische Volkspartei, ÖVP) established in January 2007 (AT0702029I). The more flexible working time regime aims to better accommodate both the various sector-related business demands and employee needs in terms of work-life balance.

Provisions of Working Time Act

The amendment to the AZG includes the following main features:

  • the right of collective bargaining parties to stipulate up to a 10-hour normal working day, even without compensation in the form of longer weekly or monthly rest periods; in the event of flexitime, the parties to both collective agreements and works agreements are entitled to introduce extended normal working hours of up to 10 hours a day. The parties involved are also entitled to introduce a working week consisting of only four working days with extended normal working hours;
  • the lengthening of reference periods for overtime: under certain circumstances, the works agreement may allow for maximum working hours to be extended up to 12 hours a day and 60 hours a week, for a maximum period of 24 weeks a year. Such a working regime has to be interrupted by periods of normal working hours of at least two weeks after eight weeks of continuous overtime work;
  • with regard to shift work, 12-hour shifts may be stipulated by the parties to collective agreements not only at weekends, but also during the working week; this scheme continues to be conditional on an individual worker’s clean bill of health;
  • tougher penalties for employers who violate working hours regulations and/or who fail to correctly register working hours of employees; maximum fines will increase from the current level of €436 to €3,600 per case of (repeated) infringement;
  • for part-time workers, the introduction of a legal claim to premium rates of pay of an additional 25% for overtime work, on condition that overtime is not fully compensated by periods of shorter working days within a three-month reference period.

Reactions

Since the AZG amendment is the outcome of a joint social partner proposal, representatives of the government parties, the Austrian Trade Union Federation (Österreichischer Gewerkschaftsbund, ÖGB) and the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber (Wirtschaftskammer Österreich, WKO) have approved this legislative initiative. While the WKO has welcomed new opportunities for flexible working time arrangements, both the SPÖ and the ÖGB endorsed the improvements for part-time workers. They see the legal amendment as an appropriate measure to render less attractive the splitting up of full-time positions into cheaper part-time jobs, an allegedly widespread practice.

By contrast, parliamentary opposition and the trade union groups linked to them are opposed to the working time flexibilisation introduced by the new legislation. In particular the trade union linked to the Green Party (Die Grünen, GRÜNE) contends that the new scope of working time negotiations at establishment level and even workplace level is likely to increase pressure on individual employees to accept longer and more flexible working hours. They blame the ÖGB leadership for violating the union’s own resolution, according to which greater working time flexibility can only be accepted in exchange for working time reductions.

Georg Adam, Department of Industrial Sociology, University of Vienna

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