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Collective Bargaining

Industry-level agreements dominate in Austria, and as the employers are normally represented by statutory bodies – the economic chambers, 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 company or 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. (Legislation removing the final legal distinctions between manual and non-manual workers was passed in 2017, although the changes will not be fully implemented until 2021.)

 

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. However, the unions expressed concerns that social partnership could be weakened under the policies of the coalition government of the centre-right Austrian Peoples' Party (ÖVP) and the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ), which was formed following elections in October 2017 but subsequently collapsed following a scandal in 2019. Immediately after the 2017 elections the executive committee of ÖGB union confederation passed a resolution calling on all political parties to commit themselves to “social partnership and the reconciliation of [different] interests”.[1]

 

One other important element of the Austria system is the existence of statutory bodies, so-called chambers, for employers and employees, membership of which is obligatory. These are the Austrian chambers of labour (AK) for employees and the Austria economic chambers (WKO) for private sector employers. There is also a chamber for agriculture (LK). The chambers of labour provide a range of support services for workers, although they are not involved in collective bargaining. The economic chambers on the other hand have a central negotiating role (see below)    

Who negotiates and when?

 

Negotiations normally take place between the unions on one side and the economic chambers (WKO) on the other. 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 fact that all private sector employers must by law belong to the appropriate economic chamber, means that collective agreements (Kollektivverträge) have a very wide application in Austria. A joint report published by the social partners (the three chambers and the unions) referred to the “almost comprehensive coverage of employees by collective agreements”.[2] The unions estimate that there are more than 800 collective agreements and they cover 98% of employees.[3]

 

The obligatory membership of the chambers was questioned in the run-up to elections in 2017. However, although the chambers have been asked to present ways in which they can be more efficient and operate at a lower cost, there are no plans to remove the obligation on employers and employees to belong to the appropriate chamber.

 

Collective agreements can provide for certain elements to be negotiated locally between individual employers and works councils, although this is not common. Individual employers and works councils can also reach voluntary company/plant level deals (Betriebsvereinbarungen) on issues such as company pensions or profit-sharing. However, these must always result in terms and conditions that are better than those in collective agreements signed at industry level. (These local agreements are in addition to the agreements on issues such as working time arrangements or performance-linked pay systems, which result from the system of workplace representation – see section on workplace representation.)

 

Negotiations are normally annual, with the metal workers usually setting the pace in the autumn. In fact, since 2012, metalworking has been covered by separate negotiations for six sub-sectors in the industry, rather than a single settlement for the whole of metalworking, although so far negotiations in all six sub-sectors have produced identical pay increases.

 

In the public sector, negotiations are between the government and the two public sector unions, GÖD and younion, with an annual increase covering the whole sector.

The subject of the negotiations

 

Negotiations cover topics, 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 the actual rates paid in individual workplaces. These cannot be lower and are often higher than the minimum rates. Employees typically receive 14 payments a year, normally including an extra month’s pay at both Christmas and in the summer (holiday pay). The level of these extra payments is determined in collective agreements.

 

There is no statutory system for setting a single national minimum wage in Austria. However, since 2007, the union confederation ÖGB and the Austrian economic chambers (WKO) have agreed on a minimum figure for the collective agreements they sign. In 2007, this was set at €1,000 a month, to be achieved by the start of 2009. In June 2017 the two sides agreed a new target of €1,500 a month, to be achieved by the end of 2019.

[1] Resolution des ÖGB-Bundesvorstands, 18 October 2017

[2] Entwicklung und Struktur der Arbeitskosten und der Lohnstückkosten 2000 bis 2015, produced by WIFO (Österreichisches Institut für Wirtschaftsforschung) for the Beirat für Wirtschafts- und Sozialfragen, July 2017

[3] Warum Kollektivverträge? http://www.kollektivvertrag.at/cms/KV/KV_3.2/der-kollektivvertrag/warum-kollektivvertraege (Accessed 23.08.18)

L. Fulton (2019) Nationan Industrial Relations, an update. Labour Research Department and ETUI (online publication). Online publication available at http://www.worker-participation.eu/National-Industrial-Relations.