Sun, Jul 11, 2004 - Page 11 News List

Industrialists seek to open up Austrian employment market


Austria's top industrial lobbyist organization envisages a "24-hour economy" in coming years, coupling greater flexibility in the workday with new technologies.

The Industrialists Association, under new leadership, says that with the technologies creating more independence for the individual than ever before, working hours must be expanded and made more flexible.

But the snag is that there won't be more pay, say the industrialists' spokesmen led by their new president Veit Sorger, causing hostility in trade union circles.

In the newspaper Kurier on Tuesday, Sorger said: "It shouldn't be that we only talk about flexibilization of working hours in industry.

We need new models everywhere -- in public offices, kindergartens, schools, leisure and culture institutions.

New technologies were making people ever more independent of fixed workplaces, and also set working hours, said new chief economist of the Industrialists Association Christian Helmenstein. The framework of working hours should be expanded, and working times chosen freely within the framework.

The industrialists also touched on an issue which recently earned Austria a rebuke from the EU, childcare facilities.

The lack of child care facilities was partly to blame for recent figures saying a record number of Austrians, mostly women, were in part-time jobs on minimal wages. The number of workers only earning a few hundred euros per month was nearly 225,000, of whom 158,000 were women.

Added to these were tens of thousands with so-called "free" job contracts giving them only marginal rights -- without holiday or sick-leave pay, or claim to severance money in case of dismissal.

Early last month the EU reprimanded Austria for lack of scope for women on its job market. The commission said the wage difference between men and women was bigger in Austria than practically any other EU country.

Lack of child care facilities forced women into low paid part-time work, said the commission. There were also far too few jobs for older women.

The Industrialists Association said an absolute priority for the future was to expand child-care facilities and make them available for longer hours during the day. It fully supported the EU's so-called "Lisbon goals," including a steep increase in the quota of women at work.

New industrialists general secretary Markus Beyrer said his association did not mind that these demands were closer to the line of the oppositon Social Democrats than Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel's conservative People's Party. "We're not party members with anyone."

But Beyrer also made it clear that in a future world of total flexibility, schools and leisure facilities such as swimming pools or museums must go along. That would mean longer working hours -- without additional pay -- for many public-sector workers.

He said the present discussion could be carried out in "peace and quiet." Austria with its 4.2 percent unemployment was in a far better situation than its large neighbor Germany, which has more than double the proportion.

"Austria is in an incomparably better situation than Germany. That's the result of a clever economic policy of the past," he said.

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