Atypical employment forms on the rise in Austria

In 2008, the Austrian Institute of Economic Research published a study entitled ‘Work forms in Austria: Legal and quantitative aspects’. The study revealed a strong increase of atypical employment forms since 2000 in Austria. These atypical employment forms are characterised by reduced social protection and significant gender differences. Nevertheless, standard employment remains the dominant form of employment in the country.

The increase in new – so-called atypical – forms of employment has proved a common phenomenon in many European countries over the past decade. These new forms of employment are characterised by reduced social protection, compared with the dominant model of dependent employment providing for full social security cover. However, the extent to which social protection – as little as it may be – is provided in connection with these atypical employment forms varies among European countries. Therefore, it is necessary to include some aspects of the legal framework when discussing the quantitative aspects of such developments.

About the study

The recent study on Work forms in Austria: Legal and quantitative aspects (Summary in German, 135Kb PDF) by the Austrian Institute of Economic Research (Österreichisches Institut für Wirtschaftsforschung, WIFO) covers the following employment forms in its analysis:

  • full-time and part-time employment;
  • marginal employment with a monthly gross income below €349;
  • temporary agency work;
  • self-employment;
  • ‘quasi freelance’ or ‘free service’ contract (freier Dienstvertrag) – that is, to provide an ongoing service without subordination or being bound by instructions, but economically dependent from service contractor;
  • contract for work (Werkvertrag) to fulfil a specific, well-defined task on a fixed-term basis without being bound by instructions;
  • ‘new’ self-employed – that is, self-employment without a business licence.

Data sources

To present a complete overview on the development of different employment forms in Austria, the study refers to different databases covering various aspects of employment. The secondary analysis is based on data from the census of statistical administration data of the Association of Social Security Providers (Hauptverband der Sozialversicherungsträger, HSV), the Microcensus of the Labour Force Survey (LFS – random sampling data) and secondary statistical data of the Federal Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Consumer Protection (Bundesministerium für Arbeit, Soziales und Konsumentenschutz, BMASK). The study’s authors, Julia Bock-Schappelwein and Ulrike Mühlberger, concede that using different databases generates slight differences in quantitative results due to the specific data structure of each database; however, it does not significantly affect the findings regarding the main trends.

The study analyses the development of different employment forms in Austria over the period 2000–2007.

Changes in legal framework

First, it should be underlined that changes in the legal framework, particularly in the area of social security law, were the precondition for implementing new forms of employment. With the introduction of these atypical employment forms – such as quasi freelance work contracts, new self-employment, and work and service contracts – the formerly clear line between dependent employment and self-employment became blurred (see also the Austrian contribution to the 2009 EIRO/EWCO comparative study on Self-employed workers: industrial relations and working conditions). Undermining minimum wages and transferring the responsibility for social security costs to the individual are core consequences of these legislative changes.

However, due to legal amendments in the past 10 years mainly initiated by the trade unions and Chambers of Labour (Arbeiterkammern, AK), the various new employment forms emphasise the need for social protection to a relatively high degree compared with other European countries (AT0701049I). In Austria, all forms of atypical employment are subject to social insurance contributions, covering health services, work accidents and public pensions; individuals working under free service contracts also contribute to the unemployment insurance. Nonetheless, all of these atypical forms of employment reveal a significant lack of employment rights that are usually linked to standard employment contracts, such as collective agreement coverage and working time regulations.

Quantitative developments

The study’s main finding is that the standard employment contract remains the dominant form of employment in Austria. This holds true for both men and women. In 2007, more than 3.5 million people worked under a standard employment contract, including part-time workers. Interestingly, over the period 2000–2007, total employment numbers increased continuously with a peak in 2006–2007.

However, the increase in new employment forms was much higher than the growth of standard employment. According to HSV data, the number of temporary agency workers rose from 30,100 people in 2000 to 66,700 people in 2007, which corresponds to an increase of about 122% (see table below). The increase in new self-employment over the same period amounted to over 80%, rising from 21,100 new self-employed individuals in 2000 to 38,100 persons in 2007. Self-employment recorded a comparatively moderate growth of just 22%, while the number of free service contracts increased by 17%. In July 2007, some 24,500 people worked under free service contracts in Austria – for three quarters of them, it was the only employment source.

Moreover, microcensus data from the LFS indicate a strong increase in part-time work between 2000 and 2007, from 525,900 part-time workers in 2000 to 779,200 such workers in 2007 – this represents an increase of more than 48%. In 2007, the proportion of part-time workers stood at about 22.6% of workers in standard dependent employment. Marginal employment also increased by 25% over the same period.

Quantitative development of different employment forms in Austria, 2000–2007 (’000)
Employment form 2000 2004 2007 Change over2000–2007 (%)
Dependent employment (HSV data) 3,133.7 3,198.6 3,344.0 6%
Free service contract (HSV data) 22.3 25.0 26.1 17%
Temporary agency work (HSV data) 30.1 44.1 66.7 122%
Part-time work (LFS microcensus data) 525.9 674.9 764.1 48%
Marginal employment (LFS microcensus data) 196.8 222.9 245.8 25%
Self-employment (HSV data) 375.0 429.7 454.8 22%
New self-employment (HSV data) 21.1 32.9 38.1 80%

Source: WIFO, 2008

Gender differences

Although a majority of men and women still work under standard employment contracts, distinctive gender differences emerge regarding the various forms of employment. Women are clearly overrepresented in part-time work: in 2007, 86% of all part-time workers were women. Almost the same holds true for marginal employment where about 70% of workers are women, as well as for free service contracts with 54% of female workers. In contrast, temporary agency work and self-employment are male-dominated forms of employment, with just over 81% and 64% of men, respectively, working in these types of employment.

The authors of the study state that these results reflect, on the one hand, as regards temporary agency work, new self-employment and free service contracts, the overall gender segmentation of the labour market. On the other hand, regarding part-time work and marginal employment, it reflects the unbalanced sharing of responsibility for family and care matters between men and women.


The study’s findings show that the development of less protected employment increased significantly since 2000. Nonetheless, dependent employment remains the dominant form of employment in Austria. It should be taken into account that standard employment forms also underwent a change process allowing for greater flexibility in terms of working time, for example. Furthermore, deregulation contributed to the weakening of the protective character of dependent employment for employees.

Manfred Krenn, Working Life Research Centre (Forschungs- und Beratungsstelle Arbeitswelt, FORBA)

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