New working time model for retail sector

Social partners in Austria’s retail sector have agreed a new model for Saturday work. Existing rules in the sector give employees one Saturday off for every Saturday worked. These will be replaced by what have been called ‘super weekends’. The plan will see employees being able to take time off from Friday through to Sunday or Saturday through to Monday five times in every six-month period. The new plan is being hailed as a ‘win-win’ situation for employees, employers and customers.

Background

A new working time model for people who work on Saturdays in Austria was unveiled on 8 July 2013. The alternative to existing Saturday work rules was proposed by social partners, along with the commerce section of the Federal Economic Chamber (WKO) and the Union of Salaried Employees, Graphical Workers and Journalists (GPA-djp).

The new model is an alternative to the so-called ‘black–white’ regulation in the retail sector. This regulation – which is set out in the sectoral collective agreements – states that when an employee is working on a Saturday after 13.00, they should have the following Saturday off.

However, under certain circumstances it was possible to circumvent the rules. An employer could use the application of ‘reference periods’ of four weeks as set out in works agreements or individual agreements in companies with no works council. This would mean four consecutive Saturdays could be worked. The employee would then have the next four Saturdays off through the use of a second consecutive reference period of four weeks.

The ‘super weekends’ plan

The new model allows for regular work on Saturdays, but changes the emphasis for employees. It gives workers an entitlement to five prolonged bonus ‘super weekends’ in a 26-week reference period. These long weekends will last from Friday to Sunday or from Saturday to Monday, and must be set out either in works agreements or in individual agreements in companies with no works council.

If one of the three days is a public holiday, then an additional day (a Thursday or a Tuesday) is to be included in the weekend.

These super weekends are to be planned 13 weeks in advance and have to be agreed between the employee and the employer. Under some circumstances they can, however, be replanned by mutual agreement. Within the first 13 weeks of the reference period, two super weekends are to be taken. The remaining three have to be taken in the second 13 weeks of the 26-week reference period. Generally, one super weekend may be transferred, or held over, to the next reference period. If more than one super weekend is not used, then additional (paid) holiday must be provided.

More reforms to come

This reform is only the first of several changes planned in an effort to modernise collective agreements in the sector. Further steps planned are the reform of the job description and job classification system. The salary system will also be simplified and a fairer distribution of lifetime earnings is proposed.

The new super weekend regulation comes into force on 1 September 2013 in all companies that have concluded a corresponding works agreement. In companies without a works council, the rules will apply to all employees who have a written agreement with their employer to use the new model. The regulation runs until 2016 and social partners will monitor its success.

Social partner reaction

Representatives of both employers and employees helped devise the new model, and both sides have said they are happy with it.

WKO Commerce Sector Chair Bettina Lorentschitsch and the GPA-djp Chair, Wolfgang Katzian, agree that the new model is ‘customer-oriented’ and will make response to the demands and needs of both employees and employers easier.

Ms Lorentschitsch stressed that the agreement would increase the flexibility of personnel planning for companies on Saturdays. She said it would also improve the quality of customer support in shops on Saturdays, traditionally the busiest day of the week for the retail trade.

Mr Katzian said that allowing workers time off on Saturdays was an integral part of the union’s social policy, and added that the initiative would have long-term benefits for retail employees.

Bernadette Allinger, FORBA (Working Life Research Centre)

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