Austria: Greater Harmonisation of Laws on Office Workers and Manual Workers
Austria is one of the few remaining countries in Europe that distinguishes between manual (blue-collar) workers and office (white-collar) workers. Some of these differences will be replaced by new rules that will apply equally to all.
One important area in which blue-collar and white-collar workers entitlements differ is sick pay. At the moment, both blue-collar and white-collar workers are entitled to 10 weeks’ sick pay for illness and accident. The entitlement increases to 12 weeks after 5 years of service, to 14 weeks after 15 years, and to a maximum of 16 weeks after 25 years of employment (in every case including 4 weeks paid at only 50 percent of salary).
However, there are differences between blue-collar and white–collar employee sick pay entitlements. Only blue-collar workers are entitled to additional sick pay in cases of accident and occupational disease (an additional 8 weeks’ full pay which increases to 10 weeks after 15 years of employment). On the other hand, white-collar workers do not have to wait as long following a period of sick leave before they are able to benefit from a new reset absence period (six months compared to a waiting for a new year in the case of blue-collar workers).
The new rules will extend the existing rules for blue-collar workers to all workers. To compensate for the shorter periods of sick pay available to white collar workers, the threshold at which sick pay entitlement rises from 10 weeks to 12 weeks is being reduced from 5 years of service to just 12 months’ service.
The other area of reform is in relation to termination of employment where currently notice periods for blue-collar workers tend to be set by collective bargaining agreement and are often short—sometimes as little as one day. In the future, blue-collar workers will benefit from the same notice entitlements as white-collar workers—ranging from six weeks to five months. In order to mitigate the consequences of these extended notice periods, they will enter into force only from January 1, 2021. Nonetheless, employers may want to amend their contract templates for blue-collar workers from now on, since the longer periods will also apply to existing employees.
Most commentators believe the new uniform rules will make employers' lives easier by removing some of the differences between blue and white-collar workers. The changes on sick leave in particular have been welcomed by both employee and employer organizations, and there is a view that they should not entail material additional costs for employers.
Unfortunately, the distinction between the two groups of workers persists in some areas, such as works council representation and reasons for summary dismissal. In addition, many collective bargaining agreements still apply to both office workers or manual workers.
Walter Poeschl and Matthias Unterrieder of Wolf Theiss contributed to this post.