Working conditions and social dialogue — Austria:

  • Observatory: EurWORK
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  • Published on: 02 April 2008



About
Country:
Austria
Author:
Georg Adam
Institution:

Disclaimer: This information is made available as a service to the public but has not been edited or approved by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions. The content is the responsibility of the authors.

In Austria, no research findings are available which explicitly deal with the relationship between the social dialogue and working conditions. Therefore, one has to refer to studies which focus on a comparison of enterprises with a works council with those without such a body. In general, the findings indicate that the existence of a works council tends to encourage the improvement of working conditions. As regards examples of social dialogue influencing the workers’ employment conditions, any assessment of the outcomes of social partner involvement has to rely on anecdotical evidence rather than empirical findings, since in Austria no evaluation of joint social partner initiatives or collective agreements take place.

A. Mapping of existing research and administrative reports

1. Surveys

Present a summary of the survey(s), its findings and methodology, including any caveats about the research

Present, where relevant, the exact wording of the questions that address the relationship between working conditions and social dialogue

Is there a predominance of cases or more information available in certain sectors? Are any particular issues emerging? Has any monitoring or evaluation been carried out?

As indicated in the wake of our first inquiry activities in Austria no research findings are available which deal explicitly with the relationship between working conditions and social dialogue. Therefore we have to refer to studies which are comparing companies with a works council with those without a works council. Referring to some aspects of working conditions, the existence of a works council is used as an indicator for the practice of social dialogue. We present here three different surveys which address the problem in different ways.

This a very interesting chapter with information we have been looking for.

I draw your attention to the fact that the findings of the Arbeitsklima-Index Are well below the importance you give to the two other survey (finding – chapters). Please consider.

1. Austrian working climate survey

Methodology

The Austrian working climate survey (Arbeitsklima-Index) is a quantitative survey carried out in quarterly interview waves based on a representative sample of 900 respondents. Its aim is to regularly deliver information on the development of job satisfaction of Austrian employees. Therefore the survey regularly covers different aspects of working conditions. In one of these surveys the authors refer to differences between companies with and without a works council.

When analysing the surveys a sample of 3,800 respondents from the quarterly interview waves of the years 2000-2005 was used. The sample is restricted to companies with in between 20 and 99 employees in order to avoid a bias related to company size (works councils are over-represented in larger companies).

Findings

A short summary of the findings draws the following picture:

Companies with a works council record a number of advantages with regard to working conditions. In general, employees represented by a works council show a higher satisfaction with their job. This is indicated by a value of 106 points on the scale of the working climate index for overall job satisfaction which is one point higher than those in companies without a works council.

Of special interest with regard to working conditions is the higher satisfaction with work life balance and the lower amount of overtime work. 18% of the employees in companies with works councils regularly work overtime but 24% in the other group. These results are interpreted by the authors as a clear indicator for the supposed control function of the works council.

Another important aspect that the stbilty of employment is much higher in companies with works councils. In this group more than a quarter of all employees works for more than 10 years in the company whereas tis is true for only 19% in companies without a works council. This situation does have an impact on the subjective perception of the own job security: In companies with works councils only 14% are frightened of their job, but 17% in the other group. This difference is much higher in the most vulnerable group of unskilled workers: 10% of all unskilled workers in companies with but 23% in companies without a works council are affected by the fear of loosing their job.

A lower gender wage gap in companies with a works council is another indicator for the general conclusion that social dialogue in the form of an existing works council does have a clear impact on working conditions.

2. Survey findings from the global call centre industry project – secondary analysis

The global call centre project conducted manager surveys in 17 countries using nearly the same questionnaire. Using the collected dataset several articles/papers are on the way presenting secondary comparative analysis findings including Austria and covering aspects which are interesting for our purpose.

2.1. The adoption of precarious employment forms in protected employment economies: The case of call centres in Austria, Germany and Spain. Draft submitted to Industrial and Labour Relations Review, Special issue on the Global Call Centre Industry by Karen A. Shire, Annika Schönauer, Mirela Valverde

Methodology

The presented secondary analysis is drawn from three national company surveys. Since in none of the three countries reliable lists of call centres were available, the representativeness of the sample is questionable. The dataset consists of 96 call centres in Austria, 155 in Germany and 105 in Spain. The respondents were senior managers at enterprise level.

The secondary analysis is focused on factors influencing employment strategies in call centres, specifically the use of non-standard, precarious forms of employment, which is of course a very important aspect of quality of work and employment. The authors differentiate between relatively secure non-standard forms of employment (i.e. part-time and temporary agency work) and more precarious ones (i.e. fixed-term contracts, freelance and marginal employment) and use two independent variables indicating the existence and extent of labour representation for their explanatory analysis: coverage of the call centres by collective agreement and the presence of a works council at the company.

Findings

The findings of the secondary analysis indicate that labour representation affects the extent of the use of the distinct employment forms in call centres. Accordingly, the existence of labour representation in all three countries correlates negatively with the use and intensity of precarious forms of employment. Conversely, the presence of labour representation works in favour of the use of relatively regulated forms of non-standard employment. This conclusion can be generally drawn, with the exception of Spanish call centres, where this rule does not hold true of the use of precarious fixed-term contracts, both in terms of incidence and intensity. In Spain, the incidence of this employment form clearly coincides with labour representation.

The authors provide estimating regression models of precarious employment forms. In the case of Austria, they demonstrate the effects of labour representation and inhouse organisational strategies on the incidence of freelance work, which is the dominating form of precarious employment in the call centre sector in Austria. The probability of a call centre using freelancers is negatively associated with both labour representation and in-house organisational strategy. Put another way, the presence of labour representation has a negative impact on the incidence of freelance work.

The secondary analysis of the dataset shows a clearly positive relationship between the existence of labour representation and thus social dialogue at company level and the reduction or even prevention of precarious employment forms in the Austrian call centre sector.

2.2. The effects of national institutions and collective bargaining arrangements on job quality in front line service work places. Draft submitted to Industrial and Labour Relations Review, Special issue on the Global Call Centre Industry by Ursula Holtgrewe, Stephen Deery and Virginia Doellgast

Methodology

Another secondary analysis of the global call centre project dataset focuses on a comparison of ‘social market economies’ (i.e. Austria, Denmark and Germany) and ‘liberal market economies’ (i.e. Canada, the US and the UK) in terms of job quality associated to collective bargaining arrangements. Even though the study does not provide for separate data for Austria, we present the results here because Austria is included as one out of three ‘social market economies’.

The definition of job quality used in the study refers to four aspects: job security (i.e. dismissal rate), pay, high involvement of the individual employee in work organisation and performance monitoring, which were set as dependent variables. As independent variables six indicators measuring the existence and type of collective bargaining arrangements were employed (from a. with both trade union and works council agreement to f. no agreement). Job type, industry and organisational characteristics were set as control variables. The study uses multivariate analysis to test the relationship between collective bargaining arrangements and job quality.

Findings

The authors find that the existence of union and/or works council agreements in ‘social market economies’ correlates with all four aspects of job quality, i.e. in terms of lower dismissals, higher pay, higher incidence of occupational involvement (work organisation) and less performance control. However, taking into consideration the control variables the correlation for lower dismissal rates and higher pay disappears, which means that a great extent of the correlation is explained by them.

Thus the multivariate analysis indicates clearly positive effects of both union and works council agreements on the individual employees’ involvement in work organisation and negative effects on the use of performance monitoring practices in ‘social market economies’.

The authors offer several possible explanations of the results. One explanation for the discovered absence of a collective bargaining effect on pay or dismissal incidence could be the so-called union-threat effect. This means that high unionisation rates and the organisational power of works councils may prompt employers that are not covered by collective agreements to pay more or less in line with prevailing collective agreements. Another alternative explanation provided by the authors is that in extremely cost-conscious work settings, like in the call centre industry, there is not much scope for negotiations over pay rates. Therefore collective agreements set wages close to the market level. With regard to the non-existing effect of collective agreements on dismissal rates the authors argue that high employee protection in ‘social market economies’ makes it difficult for all employers to dismiss employees.

As regards the ‘soft’ management practices of involvement in the work organisation and the renunciation of performance control, the authors suggest that it is mainly company-level co-determination which paves the way for these practices. In particular, high involvement in matters related to work organisation requires an institutionalised form of cooperation of the two sides of industry.

3. Acceptance and advantage of works councils from an employers’ view. Perception and appraisal of workers’ representatives at workplace level in private companies ( FORBA-research report 16/2005), by Manfred Krenn

Methodology

The quantitative survey focuses on the management view on works councils and its perception and appraisal. The disproportional random sample of the telephone survey includes 300 managers of companies half of them each with and without a works council. The study does not refer explicitly to working conditions as such, but some results are useful in the context our topic. sense.

Findings

The extent of involvement of employees or their representatives in decision making in companies is one indicator of a good quality of working conditions. A comparison between companies with the presence of a works council and those without shows important differences in this regard.

Looking at the extent of direct participation of employees there is hardly any difference between the two categories of companies under consideration. The extent of direct participation of employees and teams in companies with a works council is only slightly higher compared with the reference group with regard to nearly all aspects. So in this regard the level of participation is more or less the same. However, the works council tends to play a dominant part in matters regarding pay and health and safety. According to the findings, the works council is somehow involved in pay setting and health and safety issues in 38% and 39% of the cases (i.e. companies), respectively. A noticeable difference between the two categories of companies can be seen very clearly if one looks at those cases where no involvement or participation takes place. In companies without works councils an overall higher degree of non-participative decision-making by the management can be found. The largest difference can be found with regard to payment: in 38% of the companies with the presence of a works council no employee participation in decision-making takes place, whereas the same is true for 61% of companies in the reference group. With respect to ‘workplace design and work organisation’ unilateral decision-making by management occurs in 12% of the companies with presence of a works council but in 21% of companies without any employee representation. With regard to health and safety matters the comparison shows 33% non-participation in the first and 44% in the second category of companies.

Even though the extent of direct employee participation is more or less the same in both groups, the findings show that social dialogue indicated by the presence of a works council does have a major effect on the overall possibilities and chances for employee participation, as indicated by. This is especially true for those areas which affect core aspects of working conditions like payment, workplace design and work organisation and health and safety.

Table 1: Extent of non-involvement of employees with regard to different aspects (in %) – multiple answers
Non- involvement of employees and/or the works council with regard to … Companies with presence of a works council Companies without a works council
workplace design and work organisation 12 21
payment 38 61
personnel recruitment and transfer of personnel 51 57
further training 40 46
health and safety 33 44
investment planning 69 81

Source: Krenn 2005

2. Qualitative research

This section could include case studies and specific research work

Present a summary of the research, its findings and methodology, including any caveats about the research

Is there a predominance of cases or more information available in certain sectors? Are any particular issues emerging? Has any monitoring or evaluation been carried out?

For the case of Austria, we have not found any qualitative research dealing with the relationship between working conditions and social dialogue.

3. Administrative reports

Public reports, such as reports from the health and safety authority or labour inspectorate, including reports drawn up by consultancy firms made on demand and financed by public authorities may be a relevant source of information on the relationship between working conditions and social dialogue

Do reports from Labour Inspectorate / Health and Safety Authorities exist where the absence of dialogue between the two sides of industry on OHS matters is mentioned? (present the findings briefly)

Is there predominance in a certain sector?

When so, mention the five most quoted sectors.

The role of Labour Inspectorate in an advice / information role to get the social dialogue going whether establishment-specific or not.

Is the gender aspect taken up in OHS, is it taken up in the OHS social dialogue, who puts it on the agenda and what is its outcome, if any?

In the annual activity report of the Austrian Labour Inspectorate (Arbeitsinspektion, AI) no information on social dialogue is mentioned referring to the situation of whole sectors or particular enterprises. Nevertheless, social dialogue is an important area of activities of the Labour Inspectorate. According to the lack of adequate information we cannot give concrete answers to the asked questions but we describe those activities which are somehow related to our topic.

First of all social dialogue is institutionally embedded in the structure of health and safety matters in Austria. According to the Employee Protection Act (ArbeitnehmerInnenschutzgesetz, ASchG), the so-called Health and Safety Advisory Council (Arbeitnehmerschutzbeirat) is founded to advise the Minister for Work, Health and Social Affairs in principle matters and strategies related to health and safety at work. In this body, the social partners such as the Chamber of Labour (Arbeiterkammer, AK), the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber (Wirtschaftskammer Österreich, WKO), the Federation of Austrian Industry (Industriellenvereinigung, IV) and the Austrian Trade Union Federation (Österreichischer Gewerkschaftsbund, ÖGB) are members and thus do have an influence on health and safety policies in Austrian working life and on the activities of the Austrian Labour Inspectorate.

One of the most interesting activities of the Labour Inspectorate referring to social dialogue is so called ‘focus activities’ in certain sectors. The most important ‘focus activity’ in recent years has been the campaign ‘health and safety in bakeries’. The five-year campaign (2000-2005) was implemented by the Austrian Labour Inspectorate, in close cooperation with the social partners, i.e. the Austrian Federal Guild of Bakers, the WKO and the Austrian unions.

The aim of the campaign was the reduction of farina powder (dust) exposure, which is the most important cause of the so called ‘allergic bakery asthma’, by targeted consistent information, consultancy and control.

The whole campaign was based on an agreement known as ‘basic requirements for bakeries’ with the Austrian Federal Guild of Bakers which contained the most important preconditions both in technical and organisational terms for the reduction of farina powder (dust) exposure. Based on this principal agreement the field work of the campaign was worked out by creating regional cooperation networks between the Labour Inspectorate, the social partners and the General Accidents Insurance Corporation (Allgemeine Unfallversicherungsanstalt, AUVA).

The results of the campaign are seen as a success:

  • all bakeries in Austria are provided information about the basic requirements for the reduction of farina powder (dust) exposure and knowledge on preventive measures
  • upgrading of the technical equipment of the bakeries (e.g. extraction systems)
  • better information of the machine manufacturers and extraction technicians (e.g. a new prototype of a farina sieve has been produced - initiated by the campaign)
  • alterations in operational processes (e.g. use of farina sieves)
  • documentation of good practice examples (companies)
  • the long-term reduction of farina powder (dust) exposure in many bakeries
  • production of a documentary film for dissemination matters

The intense involvement of the social partners both in the conception and the implementation of the campaign is perceived – aside from the participation of bakers affected by the allergic baker asthma – as one of the main factors of success. Hence, it may serve as a good example of effective social dialogue, since social partner involvement both at company and sector level has contributed not only to the implementation of a successful campaign of the Labour Inspectorate but also to an important enhancement of health and safety conditions at the workplace.

Another focus campaign of the Labour Inspectorate has been implemented in the construction sector as part of the European-wide campaign of the European Union on ‘health and safety on construction (2003-2004)sites’. Also with regard to this campaign the involvement of the social partners play a crucial role for its implementation.

B. Actual examples of social dialogue influencing working conditions

The objective of this section of the CAR is to find out the views of the social partners on the influence of social dialogue on working conditions and to report real-life examples of where social dialogue has had an influence on working conditions. Our focus is on the “success stories”, where there has been a positive and reported outcome, but we would also welcome “failure stories” where, for whatever reason, social dialogue either broke down or did not have the desired influence on working conditions, or a particular intervention was tried and failed. Bear in mind that failure stories may be under-reported and success stories may be over-reported.

Please limit your answers to this second section (questions 4 and 5) to 2,500 words. National centres are asked to report at least two, but no more than four, cases in this framework. Please report, where possible, cases that are considered to be typical for your country.

4. Examples of social dialogue

Please ask the social partners in your country for what they consider to be successful or unsuccessful examples of social dialogue influencing working conditions and the criteria on which they make these judgements. This section could also include social partner views on which case studies are representative of the situation in your country.

The reporting for this section of the CAR should include:

The actors involved;

A description of the issue;

The level (national, sectoral, company, other). For example, there might be some evidence of sector-level experience transferring down successfully to company-level experience; and

The outcomes. If the intervention was a success, please list the success factors. If the intervention was not a success, please list the reasons or presumed reasons, why it was not a success.

The results of any relevant research findings.

According to the central role of the system of social partnership in Austria’s industrial relations, the social dialogue is highly institutionalised in three distinct arenas: 1) the informal practice of negotiations and discussions at cross-sector level; 2) the collective bargaining system, focused on the sectoral level and representing the core institution of bipartite social partnership; and 3) co-determination as founded in the works constitution, providing the basis for consultations and negotiations between management and the works council at establishment and company level. Apart from these bipartite forms of social dialogue, tripartite social partnership occurs in matters related to social and economic policy issues which in formal terms fall within the purview of state responsibilities; this form of tripartite social partner participation is most institutionalised within the structure of the state-run Labour Market Service (Arbeitsmarktservice, AMS). It is a salient feature of industrial relations in Austria that social partner involvement is highly developed when it comes to decision-making in such policy matters.

However, when assessing the impact of the various forms of the social dialogue on working conditions on whatever level, one might face some difficulties. Despite the outstanding significance of the social dialogue in Austria’s system of industrial relations, there is no attendant examination or ex post evaluation of any kind of social dialogue. This means that any assessment of the outcomes of social partner involvement and/or negotiations must rely on anecdotical evidence provided by experts rather than on empirical analysis.

According to the above structure of the country’s bipartite social partnership, we will choose the following examples of social dialogue influencing working conditions: 1) the joint social partner initiatives ‘work and age’ (‘Arbeit und Alter’), ‘work and disabilities’ (‘Arbeit und Behinderung’) and ‘work and health’ (‘Arbeit und Gesundheit’) as examples of informal social dialogue of the social partners at peak level; 2) collective bargaining resulting in innovative agreements in terms of working conditions, as is the case of the private social and health services and the private training sector; and 3) the Electric Power Station Wels (E-Werk Wels) as a representative example of joint social partner activity at company level.

Joint social partner initiatives

In the early 2000s the major social partner organisations jointly launched three distinct initiatives which are devised to improve the working conditions of Austrian employees. The social partners involved are the ÖGB and the AK on the employees’ side; and the WKO and the IV on the employers’ side. The first initiative, ‘work and age’, was introduced in 2004, with the aim to secure both employability/health and productivity of the ageing workforce. As a first step, experts’ hearings and joint conferences were held to examine the situation regarding the extent and the problems of ageing workforce in Austria. Concomitantly, a webpage (i.e. www.arbeitundalter.at) was installed in order to provide for virtual advice and information in matters related to ageing workforce for employers, personal managers, business consultants, works counsellors and other expert groups. In particular, the initiative focuses on the collection of relevant data and the examination of cases across Europe where companies have successfully implemented an ageing workforce strategy. Such good practice models are presented on the webpage, which has recorded an increasing number of hits since its establishment. Although no evaluation of the initiative has been carried out so far, the social partners agree that an indefinite number of companies have used the webpage and/or the social partners’ expertise to introduce certain ageing workforce schemes.

A second joint social partner initiative regarding the relation between working life and disabilities was set up in 2003, within the framework of the European Year of Persons with Disabilities. Also in this case, the main tool of the initiative has proved an internet portal (i.e. www.arbeitundbehinderung.at), with the intention to promote the integration of disabled persons in the world of work. The internet portal offers useful information about ways and means of obtaining support and advice from external partners. At the same time, it provides links for direct access to such sources. Like the above initiative, the webpage documents around 60 good practice examples of how firms manage to employ individuals with any kind of disability and/or needs. The examples presented have been selected in a way as to cover as many fields of activity as possible and to ensure a balanced regional distribution. Also this internet portal records increasing numbers of visits.

Last, but not least, the social partners set up the joint initiative ‘work and health’ (‘Arbeit und Gesundheit’), which is also manifested in a particular internet portal (i.e. www.arbeitundgesundheit.at) which went online in June 2006. This webpage provides for information and advice on occupational health and safety matters as well as employee protection. The initiative intends to support the actors at individual enterprise level to argue in favour of and eventually implement measures which are devised to improve health and safety of employees at work. Therefore the internet portal records a documentation of good practice examples of Austrian companies which have implemented (or are about to do so) programmes encouraging improvements in terms of occupational health and safety.

It is important to note that none of these joint social partner initiatives have been systematically examined or evaluated so far. Nevertheless, all of the social partner organisations involved emphasise that these initiatives have certainly had a decisive impact on many actors at individual company level to agree on arrangements aimed at improving working conditions. However, as outlined above, such impact is indicated by anecdotical evidence of the interviewees rather than ‘hard facts’ resulting from any form of evaluation.

Collective bargaining

In general, sectoral collective bargaining in Austria primarily deals with quantitative issues such as pay and working time. By contrast, qualitative issues, such as health and safety, training and further training, work organisation etc, are only of minor importance in collective bargaining. This is because such qualitative issues fall within the regulatory scope of company-level co-determination and hence the consultation rights of works councils. Training issues fall, in particular, within the competence of the vocational training system. Moreover, the predominance of small and medium-sized firms in the structure of Austria’s economy makes it difficult to agree on industry-wide rules regarding the adjustment of working conditions to human needs (AT0409204T). Nevertheless, there are some collective agreements which cover a relatively broad range of issues other than remuneration and working hours, such as issues related to re-training, certain forms of (educational) leave, flexible working time schemes, early retirement etc. However, in all these cases it is almost impossible to assess the real effects of collective agreements in terms of working conditions, since this would imply a problematic comparison of the reality with a virtual situation, whereby some or all collectively agreed provisions are presupposed to be out of force. Moreover, neither research institutions nor the parties to collective agreements themselves systematically examine their results and impacts.

However, an at least rough assessment of the results of collective bargaining in terms of working conditions may be given in case of employee groups covered by an agreement for the first time. In these cases, the unions usually file experiences made by the employees and works counsellors regarding working conditions under the terms of the new collective agreement in comparison with those of previous times. In this respect, the first nationwide agreement signed in November 2003 for social and health services may serve as an example. The then signatory parties were the Association of Employers for Professions in Health and Social Services (Berufsvereinigung von Arbeitgebern für Gesundheits- und Sozialberufe, BAGS) and three trade unions. This agreement has been regarded as a milestone for this sector in terms of employment conditions and pay, initially covering some 35,000 (and since its extension in 2007 some 65,000) employees in areas such as kindergartens, childcare, geriatric nursing and refugee welfare. Prior to the 2003 arrangement, the sector was characterised by a broad variation in often inferior working conditions, depending on regulations at individual company (i.e. works agreements or individual company agreements) or Länder level (i.e. collective agreements concluded at Länder level). Broad variation in the standards in terms of pay and working conditions also resulted from the lack of any consistent, nationwide legal framework for the sector with respect to standard training regulations or a consistent description of occupations providing for clear career prospects (AT0312202F). When signing the first nationwide collective agreement in November 2003, it was the aim of the two sides of industry to establish coherent working conditions for the sector across the whole country and thus to eliminate unfavourable ‘dumping’ effects affecting both employers (due to unfair competitive conditions) and employees (due to unfair pay and unequal standards in working conditions). The agreement, which came into effect on 1 July 2004, covers about 60 different professions and provides – apart from a uniform pay scheme – for the following regulations: Weekly working hours to be reduced to 38 hours by stages; any overtime work attracts pay supplements; introduction of a week consisting of only five working days; introduction of a sabbatical leave scheme, more favourable annual leave rules and extended framework rules on working time flexibility; last, but not least, part-time workers receive a 25% pay supplement if their actual working hours are more than five hours above the weekly norm on average within a certain reference period. According to the AK, which had consulted the unions in this respect before, the conclusion of the agreement has generally had favourable effects on the employment conditions of the employees covered. In particular, with the 2007 extension of the agreement to the whole sector across the national territory (except for the Land Vorarlberg) practices of playing off certain employee groups against each other were stopped. Moreover, in particular, employment contracts of part-time workers were significantly upgraded, since the widespread practice of offering contracts providing for months consisting of 90 working hours (implying that work over and above this threshold was performed as on call duty often without pay supplements) was put to and end. However, there are also a few employee groups (in some Länder) which had employment contracts providing for more favourable working conditions compared to those under the terms of the collective agreement; in these cases, the ‘old’ rules came under pressure and were sometimes replaced by the less favourable ones. Despite these few exemptions, the overall assessment of organised labour (and also the BAGS) proves in favour of the sector-wide settlement.

Aside from the social and health services sector, there are two other sectors which were (almost) completely covered by a collective agreement for the first time: In January 2002, Austria’s first ever collective agreement for temporary agency workers was signed; besides remuneration aspects, the agreement provides for protection against dismissal within five days after employment by the user company and assures continued payment in cases of illness, the birth of a child and other eventualities (AT0202202N). The second case refers to the private training institutions, for which a first collective agreement was concluded in February 2005. Like in the social and health services sector, the main aim of this agreement was to establish uniform standards in terms of pay and working conditions in order to prevent unfair competition at the employees’ expense. The agreement, which covers in between 5,000 and 6,000 employees, contains innovative elements, such as the claim to supervision, sabbatical leave schemes, the claim to educational leave of one week per year, the introduction of social audits of working conditions and employee satisfaction with working time regulation, the stepwise reduction of the weekly working hours to 38, early retirement models etc. It came into force on 1 April 2005 (AT0504202N). The unions involved in bargaining claim that the working conditions of the employees concerned have improved under the terms of the new collective agreements in each case.

E-Werk Wels

In case of the Electric Power Station Wels (E-Werk Wels), the directory board and the works council managed to agree on a bundle of measures aimed, in particular, at meeting the challenges of the ageing workforce. High average age in the company carries the risk of rapid skills loss in case of retirement. Therefore the company decided to launch a special ageing initiative and to participate in a joint programme initiated by the social partners of the Land Oberösterreich, known as WAGE (Winning Age – Getting futurE). The main aims of this programme and thus of the company strategy were to:

  • retain older employees in employment;
  • sustainably integrate new employees in the company; and
  • encourage knowledge transfer between generations.

In order to achieve these goals, the company-level social partners agreed on an attractive programme which enables retirees to continue to work as consulates for knowledge transfer purposes, in combination with a special recruitment and succession system. Moreover, a new flexitime scheme was incorporated, allowing for more flexible working time arrangements. With respect to occupational health and safety, external trainers were commissioned to hold worker seminars and workshops about how to reduce stress and strain. At the same time, managers and the leading personnel were educated in topics like ability to work, ageing and managing diversity. Moreover, a skills matrix was developed to help the employees design their own career prospects. The medium-sized company was awarded by the WAGE committee for the implementation of this ageing workforce programme and some other activities.

5. Social partner views

Please ask the social partners in your country for their general views on the type, nature and quality of the social dialogue in your country in terms of its influence on working conditions. This could include, for example, their assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the social dialogue, as it is organised in your country, as a tool for improving working conditions. Please report who you have contacted and in what form. The level of organisation (confederation, federation) that is relevant may differ between countries, although it is most likely that the organisation to be contacted will be a peak organisation.

As indicated above, Austria records a very high level of social partner involvement in policy-making, due to the country’s highly developed system of corporatism. This corporatist system is buttressed by a widespread practice of intense social dialogue at national and cross-sectoral, sectoral and enterprise level. However, the classic and most effective arena of bipartite regulation in Austria is incomes policy. As regards qualitative issues such as working conditions, the social dialogue is much less formalised and initiated primarily on an ad-hoc basis.

All the relevant social partners contacted (i.e. the IV, the WKO, the ÖGB and the AK) agree that – at least by international standards – their influence in the drafting and eventually the enactment of new legislation in matters related to social and economic policy affecting the economy as a whole is very high. This very high level of macro-level policy concertation is due to institutionalised mechanisms of intense social partner involvement and consultation from the very beginning of any legislative initiative in the field of interest. The relative strength of the Austrian system of social partnership ensues from the fact that even in the run-up of a pertinent legislative initiative the peak organisations of the social partners are usually consulted, for the explicit purpose of taking the interests of the two sides of industry into account as far as possible and thus to achieve a compromise acceptable for all parties involved, as far as possible, when it comes to enactment. This means that usually the government adopts, with only minor amendments, joint social partner proposals to be put to the vote of the deputies in parliament.

However, the regulatory scope of social partner policy concertation is limited with the refusal of one of the two sides of industry to enter negotiations on a specific topic. This is partially the case of binding rules on minimum standards in terms of working conditions as demanded by the AK and the ÖGB. Despite the relatively smooth cooperation with respect to joint social partner initiatives as described above (which are by nature all offers to their members and do not provide binding rules), and despite the social partners’ participation in several advisory committees, organisations (e.g. the Academy of Industrial Medicine) and decision-making bodies relating to working conditions (e.g. the AMS, the Equal Opportunities Commission, etc.), the social partners have failed to achieve a compromise on binding and stricter rules for employee protection. For instance, both the AK and the unions complain that the business organisations have proved unwilling for years to amend the AschG. Organised labour argues that new findings in industrial medicine should be integrated in Austria’s system of employee protection. Moreover, the Labour Inspectorate should be equipped with more comprehensive monitoring and enforcements rights, since this institution is considered by the employee organisations as more or less ‘toothless’. With respect to the challenge of the ageing workforce, organised labour has repeatedly called for the introduction of a National Action Plan for Older Employees, with the aim to establish and maintain human employment conditions for employees aged older than 45. Such a programme should contain measures to promote qualifications of older employees, safeguard occupational health and protection of older workers, establish appropriate workstations and working time regulations for older employees etc. In all these respects, no social dialogue carrying any commitment for the two sides of industry has been initiated so far. This is obviously due to the fact that neither IV nor WKO see any need for further regulation.

List of contacted individuals and institutions available upon request:

Manfred Krenn, FORBA, and Georg Adam, Institute of Industrial Sociology, University of Vienna

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