The number of unemployed Austrians continues to decline as the country gets ready for the full liberalisation of its job market.Social Democratic (SPÖ) Labour Minister Rudolf Hundstorfer announced today (Tues) that 309,584 people living in Austria were out of work last month. He added that another 69,187 unemployed Austrians were sitting re-education courses organised by the Federal Labour Market Service (AMS).The minister explained that the overall number of jobless people was 5.9 per cent lower in January than in December 2010, at 378,771. “This is the strongest month on month decrease since the outbreak of the economic crisis,” Hundstorfer pointed out.Hundstorfer also announced that 3.23 million people living in Austria were in work last month, up by 1.9 per cent compared to the previous month.These figures mean that the Austrian unemployment rate was 8.5 per cent, down from 8.9 per cent in December. According to Eurostat, the unemployment rate was just 5.1 per cent. The European Commission (EC) statistic authoritys measures in estimating jobless rates are different to those in most European Union (EU) member countries.Austria had the lowest or second-lowest unemployment rate in the EU last year. Only the Netherlands did better in some months of 2010, while Spain struggled the most with a jobless rate of 20 per cent and more.Detailed figures reveal that Vienna was the only Austrian province which suffered a month on month increase of unemployed people to 87,639 around 5.7 per cent more than in December. Vorarlberg (minus 17 per cent) and Styria (minus 11.5 per cent) recorded the strongest drops among the countrys other eight provinces.Hundstorfer warned that people should not let themselves get distracted from the latest figures. “This year is going to be a difficult one,” the minister said referring to the opening of the Austrian labour market to people from the eight Eastern European (EE) states as well as Cyprus and Malta which all joined the EU in 2004.The Austrian government successfully applied for a seven-year barrier when the 10 countries including Poland, Slovakia and Hungary entered the EU in 2004. Restrictions and special requirements people from Romania and Bulgaria, which joined the EU in 2007, will be valid until 2013.Martin Gleitsmann of the Austrian Economy Chamber (WKO) dismissed fears of a “mass migration” of workers.Labour market experts have stressed that thousands of Czechs, Slovenians and Hungarians have been working in Austria for some years due to a lack of especially skilled Austrian staff in some branches in the country regardless of the special law which will be in effect until 30 April 2011.Austrian right-wingers and some works council chiefs have warned that the end of the labour market agreement will lead to wage dumping and an increase of unemployment in Austria. Hundstorfer has so far failed to reveal whether his ministry plans to introduce certain mechanisms which would privilege or protect Austrians, but has said that the government “will guarantee fair competition”.Speaking about changes on the job front in Austria, Hundstorfer said last month that the end of the countrys special agreement with the EU will mean that between 20,000 and 25,000 people from the 10 affected EU states in EE will come to Austria for work.Freedom Party (FPÖ) leader Heinz-Christian Strache recently accused Hundstorfer of threatening Austrian employees and workers, while Sigisbert Dolinschek of the Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ) claimed the liberalisation will “worsen the situation”.Greens MP Birgit Schatz meanwhile pointed out that more and more women had so-called atypical work, for example part-time jobs and other special kinds of employment. “Reports that the number of unemployed people is in decline and that more and more Austrians have a job are deceiving,” she warned, pointing out that the situation is not as good as many claim it is.Schatz also claimed many Austrians were earning “unacceptably little”.SPÖ MP and employee representative Wolfgang Katzian defended Hundstorfers policies. Katzian said measures of the past two years by the coalition government which is formed by the SPÖ and the Peoples Party (ÖVP) were “right and successful”.Katzian pointed out that the government was lauded by EU labour market experts and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) for its labour market decision-making and initiatives such as subsidised part-time work programmes.ÖVP MP Peter Haubner meanwhile claimed that companies rather than the government were responsible for the Austrian economys relatively solid performance throughout the credit crunch. “Austrian firms guarantee safe jobs,” Haubner announced.