Austria reprimanded over job market disparities

The European Commission (EC) has appealed to Austria to abolish the various hindrances immigrants are facing on the country’s labour market.

EC officials decided yesterday (Mon) to issue a warning to the Austrian government coalition of Social Democrats (SPÖ) and People’s Party (ÖVP) as well as to Austrian private economy decision-makers. EC experts said highly skilled migrants were still struggling to find work in Austria because of a wide range of bureaucratic burdens. They called on the European Union (EU) member’s lawmakers and businesspeople to improve the situation.

SPÖ and ÖVP tried to reform integration and labour market policies by introducing the Red White Red Card (RWR Card, Rot-Weiß-Rot Card) last year. The RWR Card considers factors such as an immigrant’s age, profession and work experience. The card also registers whether a domestic company already made clear that it plans to employ the foreign job seeker.

The Labour Chamber (AK) and the Federal Trade Union (ÖGB) expressed cautious criticism concerning the establishment of the RWR Card system. The institutions said the reform must not confront Austrian job seekers in any way. Economists, many integration experts, the Federation of Industries (IV) and the Economy Chamber (WKO) welcomed the decision of the coalition but also said the reform was long overdue.

“Austria must invest a lot into the education of poorly skilled immigrants these days. We would have saved much money had the state created clear immigration policies 30 years ago,” Bernhard Felderer of the Institute for Advanced Studies (IHS) said.

Austria came 18th among 59 investigated countries in the International Institute for Management Development’s (IMD) World Competitiveness Yearbook (WCY) 2011. The country reached 14th place in 2010. “Keeping people from the new EU member countries from looking for work (in Austria) is one of the biggest stupidities of Austria of all times,” Felderer claimed, referring to a special agreement between the EU, Austria and Germany which expired last May.

Only last month, the AK presented a study showing that a third of immigrants were employed in positions below their qualification. Just 11 per cent of Austrians are affected this way, according to the survey. AK President Herbert Tumpel said Austria could not afford any longer that many foreign engineers were engaged as labourers because authorities refuse to accept documents proving their excellent qualifications.

Tumpel said the government must simplify the current system of regulations to help immigrants find work in Austria. Foreigners’ degrees and higher education graduations must be acknowledged much quicker, Tumpel said. ÖVP Economy Minister Reinhold Mitterlehner said the various improvements must be taken care of as soon as possible.

Austria had the lowest jobless rate among all 27 member countries of the EU at 4.1 per cent last month. Experts have appealed to SPÖ Labour Minister Rudolf Hundstorfer and Labour Market Service (AMS) boss Johannes Kopf to do more in fighting rising unemployment among elderly Austrians, teenagers and immigrants. Among these social groups, the domestic jobless rate is around twice as high as the overall rate.

The government coalition of SPÖ and ÖVP recently decided to freeze the AMS’ annual budget at 981 million Euros per year until 2015 despite predictions that unemployment would increase. The step occurred as part of the SPÖ-ÖVP administration’s budget consolidation package which consists of tax hikes and cutbacks of almost 27 billion Euros. The government plans to pass most of the various draft bills in parliament next month. None of the three opposition factions are expected to give the package the thumbs up but SPÖ and ÖVP can make most measures legally binding with their simple majority.