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Austria's new wage laws threaten ski holidays

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Austria's new wage laws threaten ski holidays
Photo: APA/Gindl
16:06 CET+01:00
With the official start of the ski season just a week away, Austria has introduced an amendment to its minimum wage law, aimed at foreign workers including ski chalet staff and tour operator reps.

Foreign travel companies will now have to pay their staff in Austria the accepted Austrian hotel industry minimum wage of around €1,000 a month - on top of the traditional salary package that is largely made up of payment in kind.

This includes flights, accommodation, food, a season’s ski pass, insurance, equipment rental, and overtime shift payments.

The Austrian annual salary is divided into 14, and not 12 payments. So foreign companies will have to fork out seven months pay for their staff over the six-month season.

A number of British ski operators run their own mid-range hotels as well as chalets in Austria, with mainly British staff. They say this will no longer be possible if they are forced to pay Austrian minimum wages.

The new measures could be enforced as early as New Year’s Day and if they don’t abide by the new rules tour operators could face fines of up to €10,000 per employee for a first offence, or up to €20,000 where three or more staff are involved.  

After France Austria is the most popular destination for British skiers.

The Anti Wage and Social Dumping Act was introduced in 2011 and was primarily aimed at maintaining wage levels as migrant workers arrived from new member states of the European Union.

Ulrike Rauch-Keschmann from the Austrian Tourist Board told The Local that the amendment is designed to make it easier to prosecute social insurance fraud but that ski tour operators should by law have already been paying the minimum wage.

She added that it was difficult to predict how much of an impact this would have on the tourist industry, but advised British agents to contact their tax advisers.

Tour operators have said they hope they will be given an amnesty for this season, as they have already contracted properties. There is a respite in the law which allows for some errors in individual calculations - meaning that an immediate fine is not inevitable.

Andy Perrin, CEO of Hotelplan UK, told Britain’s the Daily Telegraph newspaper: “We take extreme exception to the suggestion that we are wage dumping. On the salary packages that we offer what our staff have in their pockets is considerably more than anyone on the minimum wage in the UK.

We have staff contracted for the season and already in place in Austria. We have our first guests arriving in a fortnight and our brochures for winter 2015/16 are due out in three weeks. Yet these regulations supposedly start from January.”

Switzerland has a similar law which was enforced earlier this year and has resulted in a marked increase in bookings to Austrian resorts such as Lech and St Anton.

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