Austria: Latest working life developments Q4 2018
Planned amendments to the minimum income scheme, the start of the annual bargaining round and the opening of GPA-djp negotiations for crowdworkers are the main topics of interest in this article. This country update reports on the latest developments in working life in Austria in the fourth quarter of 2018.
Proposal to amend minimum income scheme draws strong criticism
In Austria, a means-tested minimum income scheme ( bedarfsorientierte Mindestsicherung) was introduced in 2010 to replace the provincial social assistance schemes (Sozialhilfe). The aim of the scheme is to set national minimum standards of financial assistance in order to prevent poverty. Each person with a legal claim to unemployment benefits, unemployment assistance and pensions – and whose income is below a specified threshold – is eligible for means-tested minimum income (in 2018, this consisted of €863 a month plus supplementary allowances for partners, children, etc.). In order to qualify for the benefits, a claimant needs to:
- prove they need financial assistance
- prove their permanent residence in Austria
- have no more than €4,315 in savings (home and contents are exempt from this calculation)
- be willing to take up work (pensioners and those caring for small children or family members are exempt from this)
However, the 2010 reform has not achieved the main objective of a nationally standardised and uniform social assistance scheme, as there continue to be significant differences between the Länder (provinces) in terms of implementation and voluntary allowances. The number of beneficiaries, many of whom are immigrants, has also increased from about 193,000 in 2011 to about 308,000 in 2017.
On 28 November 2018, the current Austrian coalition government (consisting of the conservative Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) and the right-wing populist Freedom Party (FPÖ)) presented a draft bill designed to curtail the overall costs of the scheme in general and ‘limit the immigration of refugees into Austria’s social security system’ in particular.  The government draft bill proposes a number of changes.
- The scheme will continue to be administered by the Länder, but basic benefits (not including supplementary allowances) will not exceed €863 a month
- Eligibility for full benefits will be based on applicants possessing basic German language skills or a compulsory school-leaving qualification – otherwise benefits will be reduced by €300 a month
- A flexible ceiling for families will be introduced, with a monthly supplementary allowance of €215 for the first, €129 for the second and €43 for the third and subsequent children
These proposals have met with harsh criticism from the parliamentary opposition, civil society organisations and trade unions. The Austrian Trade Union Federation (ÖGB) believes that the government’s plans are likely to increase absolute poverty among particular population groups, such as refugees and families with a large number of children, and threaten the country’s social peace. By contrast, the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber (WKO) has welcomed the country-wide standardisation of the minimum income scheme (in general, the chamber approves of all incentives designed to encourage the uptake of work).
Metalworking collective agreement reached after token strikes
The 2018 autumn bargaining round, traditionally led by the metalworking industry, was strongly affected by the recent amendments to the working time legislation. 
When entering into negotiations for the metalworking sector in September 2018, the trade unions requested that working time issues and compensation for the recent working time legislation be addressed. In particular, the unions demanded:
- a pay increase of 5%
- paid in-work breaks in the event of overtime work
- an enforceable right to compensation
- a four-day working week
- additional protection against termination for those who refuse overtime, etc.
Since 2012, negotiations have been conducted separately for the six employer organisations of the metalworking sector, with the Association of MetalTechnology Industries (FMTI) forging ahead in metalwork wage bargaining. The bargaining parties on the employees’ side are the white-collar Union of Private Sector Employees, Graphical Workers and Journalists (GPA-djp) and the blue-collar Manufacturing Union (PRO-GE).
At the beginning of November 2018, the trade union side felt that negotiations had come to a standstill and a series of token strikes were held in the period from 12–15 November 2018. More than 70,000 workers from over 240 metalworking companies took part. Eventually, in the seventh round of negotiations held on 18 November, an agreement on wages and new framework regulations was reached. The agreed provisions stipulate:
- an increase in actual wages of €80 per month, which means an increase of minimum and actual wages and salaries of between 3% and 4.3%
- an increase in apprentices’ wages of up to 16% in order to counter the skills shortage in the industry
- an increase in diverse additional allowances and benefits, including night work premiums
- an increase in the overtime premium for the 11th and 12th daily working hours and the hours exceeding 50 weekly hours to 100%
- the introduction of a paid in-work break of 10 minutes in the event of extra-long hours exceeding 10 working hours a day
The collective agreement covers about 130,000 employees in the metal technology industry, but it is seen as a model for the remaining 60,000 or so metalworkers in other sub-branches and other sectors of the economy. According to economic experts, the 2018 amendments to the Working Time Act have prompted the unions to demand higher wages and better framework agreements, which have made the 2018 agreements more expensive for employer organisations.  Despite this, both sides of the industry have declared themselves to be satisfied with the results of the 2018 metalworking bargaining round.
Union offers membership to crowdworkers
Since 1 January 2019, the GPA-djp has offered all crowdworkers working in Austria full membership for a fee of €10 a month. As members, they are entitled to make use of legal protection and counselling provided by union experts. Since crowdworkers work for firms that position themselves as intermediaries rather than employers, they are not covered, or only marginally covered, by social and labour law, and there are no remuneration or working time regulations that apply to them. GPA-djp aims to obtain information on the design and spread of this form of work, and to give the affected workers an opportunity to network with each other.