You recently criticized the “aversion” of the President of the Austrian Trade Union Federation, ÖGB, Wolfgang Katzian, to a statutory minimum wage. In your opinion, what speaks for it?
We have already seen a number of attempts in Austria to enforce a nationwide collective agreement minimum wage. Always without success so far. In 2007 there was an agreement on a gross minimum wage of EUR 1,000, and in 2017 for EUR 1,500. This was negotiated between the Chamber of Commerce and the ÖGB – without obligation, but as a guideline for the industry-specific collective agreement negotiations. In those, however, you regularly failed to achieve the goals you had set yourself, although there were individual improvements. At 98 percent, very many, but not all, employees in Austria are collectively covered.
So the bicycle messengers. There has been a collective agreement here since the beginning of the year. Most of them are not employed in a regular employment relationship. It doesn’t work for them. In addition, there are also no collective agreements in certain regular employment relationships, for example in the advertising industry outside Vienna, with undertakers or flight schools.
The debate about a statutory minimum wage is reminiscent of that in Germany. What would change for employees in Austria?
The aim is to define a lower wage limit in all employment relationships. If negotiations are only negotiated at the branch level, those branches that are less organized are often unable to achieve their objectives. Around a third of the collective agreements negotiated by the production union Pro-Ge failed to reach the 1,500 euro minimum wage that was supposed to apply since the beginning of the year. The unions should continue to negotiate wages, but with a statutory lower wage limit as a support. Linked to this, a mechanism is needed that regularly adjusts the level of the minimum wage to the inflation rate and economic development.
Since the beginning of the corona crisis, there have been some collective bargaining agreements, some of which have been heavily criticized within the union. How would a minimum wage have helped here?
For example in aviation, where there are no industry-specific but company collective agreements. In the case of Laudamotion, we saw how quickly employees can be put under pressure by management. The corporate and economic chamber side tried to enforce a collective agreement with a minimum wage of 1,000 euros gross, in other words an enormous wage cut. Ultimately, an agreement was reached on 1,440 euros, still under the social partner agreement of 1,500 euros. In aviation, it is comparatively easy to relocate, which gives companies additional bargaining power.
The fewer employees a collective agreement includes, especially in the case of company collective agreements, the easier it is for corporations to put pressure on their employees and lower wages. A general, statutory regulation that provides for a minimum wage could have prevented that.
What would a more suitable model look like from the perspective of the ABG?
A legal solution would have to provide for a lower wage limit of 15 euros per hour free of wage tax for all unions and areas. For a 30-hour week that we strive for, that means around 1,950 euros per month. This should also include all independent contractors. In addition, there must be no such thing as company collective agreements. All in all, we have to focus more on strikes and militant politics. Objectives such as the reduction of working hours must be discussed more seriously and then combat measures must be resorted to if the other side is not prepared to respond to the demands.