Social welfare and worker’s rights are under severe attack in Austria. In a series of neo-liberal reforms, the conservative-led government has announced a proposal for a new law on working time.
The Austrian employers’ organizations, in particular the Federation of Austrian Industries (member of Business Europe) have pressed for years for longer maximum working time and are actively promoting the new regulation. However, a closer look at the proposal reveals clear disadvantages for workers.
The changes will strip around 1 million workers of their right to overtime premium. This is because the new rules will mean that overtime allowances will no longer apply to workers on flexitime. Working 11 and 12 hours a day is already possible but at premium pay and under strict conditions. Compensation for those hours is at least 50% higher than for normal working time. With the new regulation, these overtime allowances will no longer apply for flexitime arrangements. In the future, this will affect even more employees, as companies would seek for more flexitime-contracts.
It will be more difficult to decline working overtime. The new law demands a “willingness” to work overtime (even beyond 10/50 hours) from employees – under threat of immediate dismissal. Whether the dismissal was justified will only be reviewed by a court long after the worker has suffered the dismissal.
Worryingly the new law will allow even more flexibility to be demanded from workers. 60-hour workweeks can suddenly be demanded by employers making it harder to balance work, freetime and family and creating unsafe conditions of work as fatigue will increasingly become a factor in work accidents.
It is not fair to allow the employer to more or less decide whether 60-hours of work is “necessary”. This is a large and unfair change from the existing law where overtime work exceeding 10 hours/ day 50/ week requires:
• Agreement from the works council
• Serious economic reasons
• Positive occupational health review of the employee
• Notification of social partners and labor inspectorate
Also of grave concern is the impact on the new law on the participation rights of works councils, their role in case of overtime beyond 10 hours/day or 60 hours/week is effectively abolished. In addition, the burden of proof is shifted to the employee making it much harder for them to protect themselves in court. The worker will have to prove there are “overriding personal interests” or else they must do the overtime but what “overriding personal interests” means is not clear yet.
ÖGB announces Strong Resistance and received full backing of the ETUC
The Austrian Trade Union Federation (ÖGB), the political opposition and large parts of the media and the population are fiercely criticizing the proposed law. Works meetings and trade union actions are planned throughout the country. The first big event will be a demonstration in Vienna on 30 June, organized by ÖGB and its member organizations.
The draft law on working time is expected to be adopted by Parliament on 5 July. In this case further industrial actions will follow.
The ETUC and our affiliates will be working with our colleagues in OGB to resist these measures and protect safe and fair working time. We urge the Austrian government to return immediately to a serious social dialogue with the Austrian Trade Unions.