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Trade Unions

Austria has a single trade union confederation, the ÖGB, to which 28% of all employees belong. Not affiliated to a particular party, the ÖGB nevertheless has strong political ties through its system of political groupings.

Figures from the unions indicate that there are 1.2 m trade union members in Austria (2014) .1 Around a fifth of them are retired and figures from the ICTWSS database of union membership put union density in Austria at 27.8% in 2011. 2 Trade union organisation is stronger among manual workers and public sector employees than among non-manual workers.

There is only one trade union confederation in Austria, the ÖGB, founded in 1945 to overcome the political divisions between unions which had existed before the fascist take-over. The ÖGB is divided into seven separate unions.

The five largest unions are: the GPA-djp (non-manual private sector) with 277,792 members; the GÖD (central government and some other public sector) with 236,891 members; PRO-GE (largely manual workers in manufacturing) with 229,776; the GdG-KMSfB (local government workers) with 150,394 following its merger with the union for culture and sport; and Vida (transport and services) with 137,553.

The current union structure reflects the results of a series of mergers. For example, PRO-GE is the result of a merger between the chemical and metal workers unions in November 2009, while Vida was formed through a merger of three unions, the railway workers’ union, the hotel and catering workers’ union and a transport workers union in 2006. The result of these and other union mergers is that the ÖGB, which in 2004 had 13 individual affiliated unions, now has only seven.

The ÖGB has reformed some of its structures, in part as a consequence of the financial difficulties at the union-owned bank BAWAG in 2006. Union finances were hit by the need to sell the bank to meet losses, and the ÖGB’s reputation, particularly in the economic and financial area, was damaged to some degree.

The ÖGB itself is not tied to a particular political party but it has close links to the parties through its system of political groupings, which have formal rights within the union structure. The biggest grouping is the FSG, linked to the social democrats (SPÖ), but there is also a powerful Christian grouping, the FCG. This has strong representation in the public sector, and is linked to the Austrian Peoples' Party (ÖVP). One of the vice-presidents of the ÖGB is the chair of the FCG, and the president of the GÖD union, which organises those employed by central government, is also a leading FCG member.

Trade union membership in Austria has been falling slowly in recent years. In 2006, the difficulties at BAWAG led to what the ÖGB described in its report to the 2009 congress as “an enormous loss of membership”. In that year, 63,000 members, some 5%, were lost. Since 2009 membership has more or less stabilised, and the report to the ÖGB’s 2013 congress stated that “after crisis years for the ÖGB and the unions the number of members continues to be broadly stable"3 . Between 2013 and 2014 only 578 members were lost. Recruiting new members is now a top priority for the ÖGB.

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.