Metal industry braced for strike

Austria’s 170,000 metal workers are ready to down tools and take to the streets.

Labour union official said they would hold summits at the beginning of next week and may organise demonstrations. They made clear that strikes were another possible measure. The announcements come after staff’s chief negotiator Rainer Wimmer upset employers’ representative Christoph Hinteregger by publicly calling for a 5.5 per cent salary increase for all workers employed in the sector.

Hinteregger announced yesterday (Weds) he was “affected and surprised” by the announcement and criticised Wimmer’s decision to initiate a press conference to make his points of view public. Hinteregger explained he would have preferred a continuation of discussions behind closed doors and said an increase of such scale was impossible. The industry official argued none of the sector’s small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) could cope with such a rise. Hinteregger claimed many firms only recently recovered from the effects of the economic crisis which broke out in autumn 2008.

Wimmer hit back by making clear that he was “sick of hearing the same points of view over and over again.” The PRO-GE Union boss explained in a TV interview yesterday evening: “The industry keeps telling us ahead of possible crises that the economic outlook would not allow higher salaries. It says that no increases are possible during economic downturns and claims higher wages are out of reach after a crisis as the sector must recover.”

Wimmer and his team of negotiators dismissed companies’ suggestions to increase employees’ earnings by 3.1 per cent. The metal industry also offered one-off payments of 200 Euros to every employee. The unionist said such measures meant no real salary increase considering Austria’s high inflation. The alpine country’s inflation was 3.7 per cent in August, significantly more than the European Union (EU) average (2.9 per cent).

Hinteregger made aware of economists’ predictions of a slump in growth. The Institute for Economic Research (WIFO) said last week Austria’s gross domestic product GDP would increase by 1.3 per cent from this year to 2012. Only in July, the institute predicted an improvement of 1.8 per cent. WIFO experts explained that export and people’s purchasing power – which proved to be solid in recent months – would not be able to carry the growth in the coming months.

Wimmer said: “We found out that metal industry firms paid 90 per cent of their profits of the past three years to shareholders and owners while staff were asked for modesty because of the volatile outlook. They were told that the strength of Austria as a business location would be at risk if wages were upped significantly.”

The PRO-GE Union chief added: “It seems employees are not being taken seriously. The economy keeps growing strongly, companies have lots of assignments and some of them make sensational profits. We will not be satisfied with anything but the compensation of the inflation and an extra one-time payment.”

Unionists and metal industry representatives will continue their wage negotiations next Wednesday (12 October). The outcome of the talks is of great importance as the discussions traditionally preceded talks between staff and firms of the retail trade and other branches of the domestic economy.

Meanwhile, the number of employed people in Austria keeps growing. Federal statistics agency Statistik Austria said last month 4.14 million residents of the country were in work between April and June, around 60,200 more than in the second quarter of 2010. Both the number for people in full-time and part-time occupations rose, according to analysts. Labour market experts have pointed out the high poverty risk of people in part-time contracts. They also emphasised the increasing joblessness among foreigners and significant improvements considering elderly people’s labour statistics.

Labour Market Service (AMS) chief Johannes Kopf told the Kurier newspaper earlier this week his organisation expected 9,000 more people with no job next year. Kopf warned that the forecast was made given that the current Eurozone crisis will not affect the labour market much more in the coming month than expected. “We don’t think (Austrian) companies will reduce their workforce figures as strongly as in 2009,” the AMS head said. Kopf explained a “slight unemployment increase” was likely as firms’ demand for staff would shrink.

WIFO also said that the domestic unemployment rate would increase as more and more people were looking for jobs after finishing school and traineeships. Some experts expect that the Austrian jobless rate may also be affected by the recent opening of the domestic labour market to residents of all of the EU’s Eastern European (EE) countries but Bulgaria and Romania.

Eurostat, the European Commission’s (EC) research and statistics organisation, said Austria had the lowest unemployment rate among the EU’s 27 members at four per cent ahead of the Netherlands (4.1 per cent) and Luxembourg at 4.5 per cent. Statistik Austria research disclosed that 175,000 people were out of work between April and June 2011 in Austria – a decline of 12,000 compared to the same time span in 2010.