The social partnership in Austria

René Tritscher
Austria is known for its outstanding educational and working conditions. It is not without reason that an increasing number of skilled employees are considering relocating to Austria. Moreover, relatively few strikes take place here compared to other European countries. In this article you will find out more about the role played by Austria’s social partners play in this regard.

The Austrian social partnership – what exactly is this?

Within the context of the Austrian social partnership, four major economic interest groups work together with the Austrian Federal Government to reach agreements on economic and social objectives. Employers and employees are each represented by two interest groups.

Emergence of the social partnership

The beginnings of the so-called Austrian Economic and Social Partnership date back to the year 1945. In that year the Austrian Trade Union Federation and the Austrian Federal Chamber of Labour were founded. One year later the Federal Chamber of Commerce (today: Austrian Federal Economic Chamber) and the Presidential Conference of the Austrian Chambers of Agriculture (today: Austrian Chamber of Agriculture) were established. As a result, the Austrian social partners considerably influenced the reconstruction of the country and the economic upswing in the post-war years.

Austria’s four social partners

There are still four organisations which are considered to be the Austrian social partners, each of which represent different areas on behalf of employers or employees:

1. Austrian Federal Economic Chamber (Wirtschaftskammer Österreich - WKÖ)

The Austrian Federal Economic Chamber (WKÖ) stands up for the interests of its approximately 517,000 member companies in Austria. For example, it influences economic policy decisions to strengthen the Austrian business location and support companies. Moreover, the WKÖ represents the interests of the Austrian business community on an EU level, promotes foreign trade and develops further education offerings at a national level, for examples courses given by the Institute for Economic Promotion (WIFI). Furthermore, the WKÖ promotes the cooperation between the regional economic chambers in the country’s federal provinces. The WKÖ represents the interests of employers in the Austrian social partnership together with the Austrian Chamber of Agriculture.

2. Austrian Chamber of Agriculture (Landwirtschaftskammer - LKÖ)

As the interest group operating on behalf of about 162,000 farming and forestry businesses, the Austrian Chamber of Agriculture (LKÖ) stands up for the interests of its members at a national and international level, similar to the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber. The LKÖ exerts an influence on legislation and is in contact with various Austrian federal ministries and the EU Parliament. Like the WKÖ, there are separate regional chambers of agriculture in each federal province which assist members by providing services and advice, further education opportunities and support in processing and handling funding and subsidies.

3.  Austrian Federal Chamber of Labour (Bundesarbeitskammer - BAK)

The areas of responsibility of the Austrian Federal Chamber of Labour (BAK) not only encompass the legal representation of close to four million employees in Austria but also the field of consumer protection. The BAK stands up for social rights and the needs of wage and salaried workers in Austria, such as equal opportunity, equal treatment and education. The BAK along with the Austrian Trade Union Federation represent the interests of employees within the context of the social partnership. 

4. Austrian Trade Union Federation (ÖGB)

A total of seven different trade unions have joined forces under the umbrella organisation of the Austrian Trade Union Federation (ÖGB). They stand up for the rights of and issues of importance to employees as well as individuals who are undergoing an education, looking for a job or who are in retirement in Austria. The ÖGB is also represented in Brussels at an EU level, just like the other social partners. The organisation exerts an influence on draft laws. Furthermore, via the individual trade unions, the ÖGB negotiates timely adjustments to the respective collective wage agreements as a means of ensuring fair working conditions in Austrian companies.

Tasks and objectives of the social partnership

The goals and needs of employers as well as companies, employees and consumers are frequently in opposition to each other. The Austrian social partners represent the most important matters of concern to the respective interest group and ensure that they are dealt with when open discussions are being held. However, the four organisations are not only responsible for defending the interests of the business community and employees. Together with political decision makers, they search for suitable compromises in order to reconcile the various requirements of a functioning society with the goal of achieving a stable economic development whilst ensuring social peace.

Characteristics of the social partnership

1. Democratic legitimacy: The members, areas of responsibility, structure and financing of all chambers are based on a legal foundation. Moreover, the governing bodies of these organisations are democratically legitimised on the basis of regular and free elections and secret voting, enabling the members to actively participate.

2. Self-government: The chambers are assigned specified public duties. The government only makes sure that the organisations observe the law.

3. Voluntariness: The Austrian social partners work together voluntarily and not because this is mandated by legal regulations. The way in which the organisations cooperate has grown historically.  

Does this sound to you like attractive working conditions? Austria has much more to offer! Find out more about the seven reasons why skilled employees enjoy working in Austria.

 

René Tritscher
Managing Director ABA - Work in Austria

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