European Trade Union Institute, ETUI.

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Industrial relations in Austria: background summary


  • There are 1,205,698 million trade union members in Austria (as of 31 December 2017, including retirees). Union membership peaked in the early 1980s and has declined since then. However, since 2016, it is slightly increasing. Trade union density is around 28%.
  • All trade unions are organised under one umbrella organisation, the Austrian Trade Union Federation ÖGB (Österreichischer Gewerkschaftsbund). The ÖGB consists of seven affiliated unions organised along mostly sectoral, but partly along professional lines (white- and blue-collar workers in the private sector are organised in separate unions).
  • The largest of the seven trade unions is the Union of Salaried Employees, Graphical Workers and Journalists GPA-djp (Gewerkschaft der Privatangestellten, Druck, Journalismus, Papier), which has 278,292 members (as of 31 December 2017). The second largest union is the public sector union GÖD (Gewerkschaft Öffentlicher Dienst) with 247,273 members as of 31 December 2017. In the public sector, wages and working conditions are set by law; nonetheless, informal collective bargaining usually takes place beforehand. The third largest union is the PRO-GE manufacturing union with 235,273 members (as of 31 December 2017).
  • The largest employers’ organisation is the Chamber of Economy (Wirtschaftskammer Österreich/WKÖ). Membership is mandatory for all private companies or entrepreneurs who fall within the scope of the trade law (Gewerbeordnung). Only medical institutes, pharmacies, media, religious organisations, theatres and similar non-trade-law-employers are not affiliated to the WKÖ.
  • Collective bargaining takes place predominantly at the sectoral level between the respective trade unions (members of the ÖGB) and the Chamber of Commerce (WKO) or smaller sectoral employer organisations, with more than 80% of the circa 850 collective agreements concluded between a branch trade union within the ÖGB and the WKÖ. The rest is negotiated between a ‘voluntary employer organisation’ (e.g. Verband Österreichischer Zeitungen) and a branch trade union affiliated to the ÖGB. Multi-employer collective agreements are the norm, whilst most of the industry-wide agreements cover the whole national territory. In some cases, agreements are concluded at provincial level. In addition, a few ‘company-level agreements’ are negotiated (i.e. negotiated by the sectoral social-partners, but with restricted applicability to only one company or group of companies).
  • Wages are generally negotiated for one year, or, in exceptional cases, for two years. Collective agreements remain in force even after the agreement has expired until a new collective agreement has been concluded.
  • The collective bargaining season traditionally starts with the influential metalworking industryin autumn. For several years now, an increasing number of collective agreements has been negotiated in the spring. Additionally, further sectoral collective agreements are being negotiated between the spring and autumn rounds, giving rise to year-round negotiations.
  • Wage bargaining is strongly coordinated across the economy. This is because a practice of ‘pattern bargaining’ prevails, in which the metalworking industry takes on a leading role as the first major sector conducting wage negotiations in the annual bargaining process. The results serve as an important reference for other sectors. In practice, they often stand out as one of the highest wage agreements compared to other sectors due to the relatively strong metalworkers’ trade unions. Despite this high degree of bargaining coordination, the collective bargaining system is not marked by centralised wage-setting.
  • Collective bargaining coverage is exceptionally high and lies at 98% ((blue and white collar workers/employees plus public servants; OECD, 2016). This is an extremely high level of coverage by international standards and it is due to the political/cultural tradition of social partnership (Sozialpartnerschaft) prevailing in the country and to the legal framework governing industrial relations: first, all employees who are not members of the union signing the collective agreement are nonetheless covered by its provisions; and second, on the employer side, collective agreements for almost all (sub)sectors are concluded by branches of the WKO, the employer organisation with mandatory membership. In effect, all private sector companies are members of the WKO and hence are covered by the respective collective agreements.
  • The Labour Constitution Act (Arbeitsverfassungsgesetz 1974) establishes a dual system of workers’ representation, with trade unions (under the umbrella of the ÖGB) at sectoral (branches) level and works councils at company level. In practice, this formal separation is eliminated as works council members are, in general, union members. There is a clear division of responsibility between collective agreements concluded at sectoral level and works agreements (Betriebsvereinbarungen) concluded at the company level.
  • Collective agreements regulate core areas such as pay and working hours, whereas works agreements deal with more specific working conditions (e.g. starting and finishing of daily working hours, distribution of the weekly working time, scheduling of breaks, introduction of personnel IT-systems, safety at the workplace etc.).
  • The only pay-related matters that may fall within the regulatory scope of works agreements are pay entitlements for time spent attending works meetings (Betriebsversammlungen), profit-sharing schemes, occupational pension schemes and the like. In the case of delegation clauses laid down in a collective agreement, some negotiation capacities in terms of working time and – to a certain extent – wages are delegated to the company level parties concerned, but solely within the framework set by the sectoral collective agreements.
  • It is illegal to derogate from collective wage agreements and to pay wages below the collectively agreed level. However, the collective agreement sets the framework for works agreements to be concluded within company-specific regulations. The so-called ‘distribution option’ (which can be found in some collective agreements, e.g. in the electronics industry) entitles both sides of industry to agree on a redistribution of a certain amount of the total wages at company level. This may be distributed flexibly by the employer to certain groups of employees (in line with certain criteria, such as compensation for very low incomes, rewards for high performance or diminishing the gender wage gap).
  • Works councils must be set up in establishments with five or more permanent employees, according to the Labour Constitution Act. In practice, many of the smaller companies do not elect a works council. Data are not up to date, but it is estimated that about 56% of employees in the private sector (and 90% of public servants) are covered by ‘official’ (legally established) structures of employee representation at establishment level (Flecker/Hermann 2006). A works council is elected by the workforce for a term of five years on the basis of proportional representation, with the number of council members determined by the size of the workforce (from 1 person at a workshop with 5-9 workers to e.g. 16 members of the works council in a workshop with 1.900 workers).
  • The works council carries out the workplace-level consultation and exercises its co-determination rights conferred by law on the workforce as a whole. The employer is required to hold regular discussions with the works council and keep it informed on matters that are relevant to the workforce. The most important instrument of co-determination rights is related to the conclusion of a works agreement between management and the works council (see above).
  • The Labour Constitution Act stipulates a legal provision for a form of co-determination of employees in the supervisory board (Aufsichtsrat) of joint-stock companies (regardless of the number of workers) or private limited companies (at least from 300 employees onwards) or cooperatives (from 40 employees on). For every two shareholder representatives, one employee representative gets a seat (plus one if the number is uneven). The right to appoint the board-level employee representatives lies with the company works council. Works councils of subsidiary companies are – depending on the relations of workers within the group of companies - entitled to appoint one or more representatives in the supervisory board of the mother-company responsible holding company.
  • There is no legal regulation on strikes. Labour Acts are ‘passive’ towards strikes, but it is not allowed to convey unemployed persons to a company which is strikebound. Strikes are traditionally very rare, per 1.000 workers there were 2 days lost per year (2008-2016) and only 5.196 persons on strike in 2014. Academics and industrial relation observers explain the low strike rate by the ‘culture’ of social partnership (Sozialpartnerschaft).