Unions fight against archaic working time law in Austria

Friday 14 September 2018

On 1st September a new law on working time entered into force in Austria increasing the working day from maximum 8 to 12 hours and the working week from 40 to 60 hours.

The Austrian Conservative Party (ÖVP) and the right wing Freedom Party (FPÖ) pushed through this law which introduces a 60 hour work week – at any time and without conditions – for many workers depending on the employer’s will and without involvement of works councils or a social partner agreement.

Previously, the extension of weekly working time was possible in many sectors due to regulations in the collective agreements – but only under specific conditions and permitted by the Labour Inspectorate with the works council and the individual employer.

In addition, in many cases overtime payments will be decreased while, in the case of flextime, they will even be completely cut. As these extensions of working time will no longer be regulated in a company-level agreement with the involvement of works councils, benefits for employees such as higher bonuses or extra compensatory free time can no longer be negotiated.

Trade unions were not consulted before the adoption of this drastic law, which could increase annual working hours by 96. At present, only the EU’s Working Time Directive protects workers from indefinitely working a 60 hour week.

“The development in Austria is worrying for all trade unions in Europe,” said Oliver Roethig, Regional Secretary of UNI Europa.

The new law, which, according to Roethig, was whipped through parliament by the order of the industrial lobby and the corporations, will have a strong impact on the lives and health of workers.

“Austria is setting a negative example against a social Europe, especially during the EU Council Presidency. It’s a step back into the 19th century,” Roethig concluded.

Unions are now acting to ensure that this new archaic law will not spill over to other EU countries. A high-level conference was held this week to release the Vienna Declaration, which features concrete proposals on working time for the future world of work.

The Vienna Declaration can be read in English, French, German and Swedish.