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Collective Bargaining

Industry-level agreements dominate in Austria, and as the employers are normally represented by the chambers of commerce, to which all employers are obliged to belong, the agreements cover almost all employees.


The framework

Negotiations in Austria are primarily conducted at industry level. Any plant level negotiations are subordinate to the industry level agreements. There are often separate agreements for the manual and non-manual workers, reflecting the division in the Austrian unions, although this is becoming less frequent.

There is no central wage norm set by the ÖGB, but in general unions aim for an increase in real earnings in line with economic growth.

By law collective agreements cover all the employees of the employers, who belong to the signatory organisations, whether or not the employees are members of the signatory unions.

Traditionally the actions of the unions, the employers and the state have been strongly influenced by a common approach of social partnership, with strong mutual links between the unions, the main political parties and government. This appeared to be under threat in the early 2000s when the policies of the coalition government of the centre-right Austrian Peoples' Party (ÖVP) and the extreme right Freedom Party (FPÖ), produced a number of major clashes with the unions. But following the election in 2006, which the social democratic SPÖ narrowly won, social partnership was restored. An indication of the extent of links between unions, employers and the government is provided by the fact that in the coalition government formed in 2008, the social affairs minister was (and in mid-2014 still is) Rudolf Hundstorfer, who until his appointment was the president of the ÖGB, while the economics minister was (and in mid-2014 still is) Reinhold Mitterlehner, who was previously the deputy general secretary of the chamber of commerce, which represents employers.

Who negotiates and when?

Negotiations normally take place between the unions on the one side and the Austrian economic chambers (WKO) on the other. These chambers are legal bodies representing employers in almost all industries, to which all employers must by law belong. There are similar chambers for employees (chambers of labour) – also with obligatory membership – but, although they provide other support to workers and their unions, they are not involved in negotiation.

There are only a very few areas, parts of the finance industry and parts of the printing and newspaper industry, where the negotiations are with employers' industry associations rather than with the chambers. The result is that the agreements signed have a very wide application in Austria, covering an estimated 95% of the workforce.1

One recent change is that since 2012 the economic chambers in metalworking and machinery insisted on separate negotiations for the six sub-sectors in the industry, such as vehicles, foundries and non-ferrous metals. They had previously negotiated a single settlement for the whole industry. The employers argued that they needed to take account of the different economic circumstances in the different parts of the industry, a view contested by the unions. In practice the results of all six negotiations produced identical pay increases.

Some collective agreements allow a limited amount of the annual pay increase to be negotiated at local level, provided the overall increase in the paybill is slightly higher than the general increase. This option has only been taken up in a minority of cases. But where it has, the negotiations have been between the works council and company management, with priority often being given to improving the position of the low paid.

Negotiations are normally annual and at a national level, with the metal workers usually setting the negotiating pace. In total the ÖGB unions conclude more than 700 agreements each year.

The subject of the negotiations

Negotiations cover issues, such as pensions and humanised working methods, as well as pay and basic conditions. The pay negotiations normally set the percentage increases for both minimum rates and actual rates paid in individual workplaces, which are often higher. The unions’ policy has been for the increase in minimum rates to be greater than for the effective rates, so as to help the lower paid.

There is no national system for setting a single national minimum wage in Austria. However, in July 2007, the leaders of the ÖGB and the Austrian chamber of commerce agreed to do all in their power to ensure that no collective agreement was signed providing a minimum rate below an agreed level of €1,000 a month. This has largely been achieved and the new union target, put forward by the ÖGB’s women’s congress in 2013 is € 15002 although this has not been agreed with the employers.

L. Fulton (2015) Worker representation in Europe. Labour Research Department and ETUI. Produced with the assistance of the SEEurope Network, online publication available at http://www.worker-participation.eu/National-Industrial-Relations.