Hundstorfer ready to reduce working week

The Social Democrats (SPÖ) plan an initiative for shorter working weeks.

SPÖ Labour Minister Rudolf Hundstorfer said yesterday (Tues) he would appreciate a reduction of the general working volume from 40 to 38.5 hours. Hundstorfer claimed such a reform could help keeping elderly labourers and employees in work longer. He argued that lowering people’s average working hours a week could be beneficial to the government’s attempts to increase the average pension age.

Austrian men must work until 65 by law but statistics show that they retire at an average age of 58.9 years. Women retire prematurely as well at 57.5 years instead of 60 as obliged. The number of jobless people older than 50 rose by 8.5 per cent from March 2011 to the same month of this year. The Labour Chamber (AK) called on the government coalition of SPÖ and the People’s Party (ÖVP) to present labour incentives to stop the increase.

The overall unemployment rate rose by 4.4 per cent, according to the Labour Market Service. Around 263,000 Austrians and foreigners living in Austria are currently out of work, the organisation announced. Only 42.4 per cent of Austrians aged between 55 and 65 have a job. Sweden does best in Europe in providing employment for the elderly. More than seven in 10 residents of the Scandinavian country aged 55 to 65 are working.

Austria currently has the lowest unemployment rate in the European Union (EU) with 4.2 per cent. Eurostat, the European Commission’s (EC) statistics office, said the Netherlands took second place with a rate of 4.9 per cent, followed by Luxembourg (5.2 per cent).

AK research shows that 14 per cent of private economy employees are working between 40 and 45 hours a week. Another 10 per cent work more than 45 hours a week. With 48 per cent, almost one in two Austrian men and women have working weeks of 35 to 40 hours. The number of women doing part-time ranges around 756,000. Only 140,000 men have part-time contracts in Austria.

A spokesman for the SPÖ said yesterday the party would create various labour law draft bills and models for the job market of the future. The Social Democrats refused to confirm that they would not shy away from calling for a general reduction of the working week under any circumstances.

Such a campaign could cause further pressure on the fragile bounds with the left-wing party’s coalition partner, the conservative ÖVP of Vice Chancellor Michael Spindelegger. A poll by OGM shows that 51 per cent of Austrians want SPÖ and ÖVP to continue their cooperation after next year’s election. The public opinion research also shows that a possible coalition between ÖVP and Freedom Party (FPÖ) is more popular than any other alternatives to an extended partnership of SPÖ and ÖVP.

The Federal Trade Union (ÖGB) announced yesterday it supported Hundstorfer’s working week reduction vision. The union argued that workers and employees were facing more and more strains nowadays. ÖGB chiefs warned that lowering the working week by 1.5 hours must not mean salary cutbacks. The Economy Chamber (WKO) made clear that it was against a reform. It warned from counter-productive effects on the economic competitiveness of the country.