Amendments to Chamber of Labour Act proposed

Amendments to the Chamber of Labour Act have been agreed by Austria's coalition Government and released in April 1998. They broaden the electoral base and attempt to improve participation rates, but do not address the eligibility of non-EEA nationals to stand as candidates, as originally proposed.

On 15 April 1998, the Government released the text of its bill revising the law on the Chambers of Labour (Arbeiterkammer, AK). The main points, out of 49 originally drafted by the Ministry of Labour, Health and Social Affairs (Bundesministerium für Arbeit, Gesundheit und Soziales, BMAGS), are as follows:

  • the assembly of the Chamber will be unified following the next elections, bringing together the three assemblies that had existed until now for, respectively, blue-collar workers, white-collar workers and employees in transport;
  • all members will in future enjoy the franchise in elections (up to now the franchise had been restricted to members aged at least 18);
  • the minimum age for eligibility for officer positions will be reduced from 21 years to 19. In addition, candidates must have been chamber members for at least two years and employed over the previous five years. Eligibility also remains tied to nationality;
  • elections may take place over a period of between two days and three weeks, but may take place over no more than three days in any individual establishment. Groups in smaller establishments had protested against this extension because they lack the personnel to participate in electoral commissions for such a long period, but the rationale for the extension was to increase participation, which had fallen to a turn-out of 30%; and
  • the next elections, due in autumn 1999, may now be postponed until mid-2000 because parliamentary elections are expected in October or November 1999.

Excluded from these amendments is the issue of the eligibility of foreigners (AT9802168N) - it will still be the case that only citizens of member countries of the European Economic Area (EEA) may be elected as Chamber officers (AT9706121N). In the draft circulated on 8 January 1998, nationality had not been a criterion for eligibility. When the bill was first submitted by the Government on 1 April 1998, the eligibility of non-EEA nationals had become restricted either to holders of a so-called "licence of release" (Befreiungsschein) which is awarded after five years of employment over the previous eight years, or to young people up to the age of 19 if they satisfied certain residence criteria and at least one parent had been employed for three of the previous five years. But by 15 April, a fully-fledged nationality criterion had been introduced into the Act. The driving force was the labour wing of the Austrian People's Party (Österreichische Volkspartei, ÖVP), the christian democratic member of the coalition government. The Social Democrat Party (Sozialdemokratische Partei Österreichs, SPÖ) decided to drop the issue. The right to vote in chamber elections is granted regardless of citizenship.

The criteria for eligibility for works council membership are now also in doubt. Austria is the only country in the EEA where workplace representation is dependent on nationality (AT9703104F).

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