Austria: Latest working life developments – Q3 2016

The labour market integration of refugees and asylum seekers, together with discussions about the types of jobs unemployed people should accept, are the main topics of interest in this article. This country update reports on the latest developments in working life in Austria in the third quarter of 2016.

Poor employment prospects for asylum seekers and refugees

The integration of refugees into the Austrian labour market was heavily debated in the third quarter. Amid record high national unemployment (8.2% at the end of September), the Public Employment Service published data that showed an employment rate of just 10% (as of the end of June 2016) among refugees who had been granted asylum in 2015.

These figures were not surprising as most refugees have to attend German language courses before being able to find employment. Nonetheless, an economic analysis based on a similar situation in Sweden predicts that finding employment will continue to prove difficult for most refugees, even after two or three German courses .

The provincial states of Austria have agreed that asylum seekers should be allowed to carry out community service for up to 40 hours a month at an hourly wage of €5, up to a threshold of €200 a month without losing their basic allowance as asylum seekers. The previous threshold was €110 a month with hourly wages of between €3 and €5.

Social partners discuss migration and integration

The top-level social partners held their annual meeting at the end of September in the town of Bad Ischl, this year on the topic of migration and integration. The social partners presented a mutual position paper setting out several demands, as follows.

  • The Austrian labour market should be open to anyone who has been registered as an asylum seeker for at least six months. An asylum seeker could be employed only after a labour market test proves that no other employee would be suitable for the job. This demand was also articulated at the 2011 annual social partner meeting but has not yet been put into force.
  • Regional distribution of asylum seekers should take into account the needs and opportunities of specific regional labour markets.
  • For young asylum seekers with a high chance of being granted asylum, all types of apprenticeships should be made available. Social transfers should continue to be paid during an apprenticeship, as remuneration for apprenticeships is lower than the means-tested minimum income they would receive if unemployed.
  • The recently adopted obligation to provide education or training up to the age of 18 should be extended to young asylum seekers.

Challenging the ‘reasonableness’ criteria for jobs for unemployed people

The conservative People's Party, the junior partner in the governing federal coalition, has called for tighter criteria about the type of job that unemployed people should accept. The People’s Party has recommended increasing:

  • acceptable commuting times from two hours to two-and-a-half hours per day for a full-time job
  • reasonable minimum working hours for people caring for children under 10 years-old or disabled from 16 hours to 20 hours per week
  • sanctions for refusals to take a job – the period for which unemployment benefits are withheld should be extended from six to eight weeks.

These proposals were dismissed by the governing Social Democratic Party, as well as by organised labour. Opponents to the proposals argued that, during an employment crisis with 400,000 people unemployed and only 40,000 vacant positions, the government should provide a stimulus to the economy and not place further sanctions on unemployed people.

Collective bargaining to begin in autumn

Only a small amount of collective bargaining took place during the summer. The autumn round of bargaining will begin soon, starting with the influential metal industry negotiations.

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