In the last session before the general elections in Austria in 2017, Austria’s national assembly decided about the partial approximation of blue-collar (Arbeiter) and white-collar employees’ (Angestellte) rights. The main key points of the legislative changes are:
Continued payment of remuneration.
For blue-collar and white-collar employees, the entitlement of continued payment of remuneration (Entgeltfortzahlung) in case of illness or accident up to the duration of eight weeks arose so far only after five years of employment. In the future, the increased continued payment of remuneration arises after the second year of service. All other increments remain unchanged (six weeks in the first year of service, after fifteen years of service ten weeks and after twenty-five years of service twelve weeks). As in the past, the entitlement to the half remuneration for four additional weeks will not change.
In the case of a relapse (Wiedererkrankung) of the white-collar employee within one working year, the entitlement to continued payment of remuneration exists only insofar as the entitlement for continued payment has not already been exhausted. The entitlement of continued payment of remuneration to the full extent shall arise in the next working year.
In cases of accidents at work (Arbeitsunfälle) or occupational diseases (Berufskrankheiten), the entitlement exists in general up to a period of eight weeks regardless of other periods of incapacity to work. The entitlement increases after a period of fifteen years up to ten weeks.
Furthermore, it is stipulated that also for white-collar employees a collective bargaining agreement (Kollektivvertrag) or a company agreement (Betriebsvereinbarung) can change the entitlement period from the working year to the calendar year.
Up to now, an apprentice (Lehrling) received for the first four weeks full apprenticeship compensation (Lehrlingsentschädigung) and up to duration of two additional weeks half of the compensation in the case of illness or accident. This entitlement was now increased up to eight weeks full compensation and for four additional weeks half of the compensation.
In the case of a consensual termination (einvernehmliche Beendigung) of the employment relationship during a sick leave, in the future the employee shall have the same entitlements as in the case of a termination with notice by the employer. This means that the entitlement of continued payment of remuneration according to the above provisions remains unaffected, even if the employment relationship ends earlier.
From now on, blue-collar just as white-collar employees will be entitled to continued payment of remuneration, if they are prevented from service during a comparatively short period due to other important reasons which are not based on illness or accident (e.g. death of dependants, marriage). This entitlement cannot be restricted by a collective bargaining agreement anymore.
Notice periods and notice dates.
The general notice periods and notice dates have been regulated in a highly complex manner in relation to the duration of the employment relationship, the nature of the owed services and the extent to which the remuneration is calculated. In addition, the dismissal rules for blue-collar employees were modifiable and could therefore also be changed to the disadvantage of the employee. In the future, the dismissal rules for white-collar employees pursuant to section 20 of the Austrian White-Collar Employees Act (Angestelltengesetz – AngG) will also be applicable to blue-collar employees. For both groups (white-collar and blue-collar employees), the requirements for the minimum period of employment will be omitted. Thus, the notice period for blue-collar employees is also at least six weeks and will increase depending on the duration of the employment contract up to five months. The notice date to be observed by the employer is the end of a quarter. However, it may be agreed that the employment relationship ends on the 15th or on the last day of the month.
Entry into force.
The adjustment of continued payment of remuneration will enter into force on 1.7.2018. The dismissal rules will be harmonized in 2021. An exception to this rule exists for seasonal industries (such as construction, tourism). Furthermore, diverging regulations can be determined by collective bargaining agreements.
Although the equality of blue-collar and white-collar employees is to be welcomed in principle, the legislator has omitted the opportunity of creating a uniform concept of employees taking into account the social partner’s (Chamber of Commerce, Chamber of Labour, Trade Union Federation) opinions. In conclusion, there will be still a lot of major differences between blue-collar and white-collar employees, such as provisions concerning the right to dismiss for cause (Entlassungsrecht), differences between incapacity to work (Berufsunfähigkeit; white-collar employees) and invalidity (Invalidität; blue-collar employees) or separate works councils for blue-collar and white-collar employees. In addition, in most sectors different collective bargaining agreements exist for blue-collar and white-collar employees which normally include far lower minimum wages for blue-collar employees.
It is obvious that the above-mentioned legislative changes will lead to a substantial increase in the cost of terminating employment relationships, especially with blue-collar employees. The concessions made to the economy in form of relatively long transitional periods are limited. Nevertheless, employers are well advised to deal with the new legal situation in detail and to take the necessary precautions (e.g. preparation of new or adaption of existing employment contracts) in time.
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