Action taken on nationality-based discrimination
In June 1997, the Austrian Parliament passed amendments removing nationality as a criteria for unemployment benefit entitlements, which will take effect from 1 January 2000. Other nationality-based inequalities in social and employment legislation are also being addressed.
The Unemployment Insurance Act (Arbeitslosenversicherungsgesetz, AlVG) makes benefit entitlements, but not contributions, dependent on nationality. On 16 September 1996 the European Court of Human Rights found this inequality to be in violation of human rights, creating the need to amend the law, and on 11 June 1997 Parliament passed the requisite act.
The new regulations, like the old, grant access to benefits on the basis of previous employment, availability and age. Initially there is an entitlement for 20, 30, 39 or 52 weeks. In the old regulations, benefits thereafter were dependent on availability, need, nationality and permit status. The latter two are now being replaced. In the future, it will be necessary to satisfy at least one of the following four criteria:
- be born in Austria;
- have paid contributions to the unemployment insurance for at least eight of the previous 10 years;
- if under the age of 25, have completed half one's compulsory schooling in Austria, including graduation; or
- have had one's legal residence in Austria for at least half of one's life.
The Government, when submitting the bill to Parliament, had intended to bring the amendments into force from 1 January 1998. At the behest of members of Parliament the date was changed to 1 January 2000, the rationale being that this would be after the next national elections. The intention is to avoid any pre-election scandal if even a single Austrian national might fall short of the new benefit entitlement criteria.
Also on 11 June, Parliament asked the Government to submit before the end of the year draft legislation removing inequalities from the Labour Constitution Act (Arbeitsverfassungsgesetz, ArbVG) and the Chamber of Labour Act (Arbeiterkammergesetz, AKG). These, in principle, bar third-country nationals (from non-EEA countries) from standing for election to works councils and to the council of the Chamber of Labour (Arbeiterkammer, AK). The Ministry of Labour, Health and Social Affairs is preparing talks with the social partners aimed at drafting the required legislation. The importance lies not only in opening up workplace representation to third-country nationals, but at least as much in the fact that works council membership is virtually indispensable, and often formally required, as a stepping stone to elected positions within the trade unions. At its last two federal congresses, the Austrian Trade Union Federation (Österreichischer Gewerkschaftsbund,ÖGB) adopted resolutions urging amendments to the ArbVG. In the Federal Chamber of Labour, however, a strategy paper has been circulated, stating that no changes of the electoral rules in the AKG were desired. Seen through the eyes of EU Directives and the European Court of Justice, the Chamber of Labour is likely to be considered a trade union.
Furthermore, on 11 June, parliament passed sweeping changes to the Aliens Act (Fremdengesetz, FrG), and amended the Aliens Employment Act (Ausländerbeschäftigungsgesetz, AuslBG) to take account of the Association Treaty between Turkey and the EU.
For further information on nationality-based inequalities in Austrian social and employment legislation, see AT9703104F.