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‘Hitzefrei’: When is it too hot to work in Austria?

Austria is experiencing a wave of high temperatures right now, which means workers in construction and other outdoor professions are feeling the heat. What does 'Hitzefrei' mean and what are worker’s rights?

'Hitzefrei': When is it too hot to work in Austria?
When is it too hot to work in Austria? Photo: ROBYN BECK / AFP

Austria is experiencing a wave of high temperatures at the moment, which means workers in construction and other outdoor professions are feeling the heat.

To counteract this, the “Hitzefrei”, or “heat-free” regulation, is an Austrian law that allows people working outdoors to down tools when the mercury hits 32.5 degrees.

However, the construction company, or the boss, has to activate the Hitzefrei regulation at a site, and workers have no legal right to it.

As Austria experiences a heatwave, here’s what you need to know about Hitzefrei.

READ MORE: How to find a job in Austria

What is the law?

Hitzefrei was introduced to protect the health and safety of workers during times of extreme heat, and in May 2019 the temperature deemed as too hot was reduced from 35 degrees to 32.5 degrees.

This means employers can allow their staff to stop working until the temperature drops to a safe level again. Sometimes this might just be during the hottest hours in the middle of the day or late afternoon.

Workers should also be provided with sun protection, including personal protective equipment and allowed to take plenty of water breaks.

Well above the maximum temperature for working in Austria. Photo: ALEXANDER KLEIN / AFP

If Hitzefrei is applied, workers receive 60 per cent of their pay, which is reimbursed by BUAK (the construction workers’ leave and severance pay fund).

Statistics from BUAK show that 39,122 construction workers from 5,245 companies were granted Hitzefrei in 2019.

READ MORE: Tell us about getting Austria’s Covid immunity card

Anything controversial?

In recent days, the Bau-Holz Union (construction wood union) has demanded legal entitlement to Hitzefrei for workers, claiming that many companies do not use the regulation and some staff are forced to continue working in the heat.

The Tyrolean branch of the union has been particularly vocal about the issue and called for the regulation to be enforced for thousands of construction workers on Tuesday (22 June 2021) when the temperature passed 32.5 degrees.

According to the Bau-Holz Union, working in construction in high temperatures is “very dangerous” and more accidents happen as the ability to concentrate decreases.

There is also a higher risk of UV exposure for workers, especially when working high up on scaffolding.

As the five hottest summers in recorded history have been experienced since 2000, unions are calling for more protection for workers as further heatwaves in the coming years are expected.

READ MORE: Will the EU force Austria to adopt a minimum wage?

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WEATHER

Forecast: Austria faces sunny weekend but temperatures to drop next week

Despite recent sunny weather, people in Austria will have to brace for wintery temperatures in the coming days.

Forecast: Austria faces sunny weekend but temperatures to drop next week

On Friday, people in Austria woke up to a foggy day that quickly turned into an unexpectedly sunny day with mild temperatures. Still, the country’s weather is about to change, Austria’s meteorologic institute ZAMG said.

Saturday should still have some periods of sunshine, especially in the eastern half of the country – perfect for those who will take part in the Viennese Wine Hiking Day (Wiener Weinwandertag), as temperatures should stay around 15C to 18C during the day.

READ ALSO: Wiener Weinwandertag: Everything you need to know about Vienna’s ‘Wine Hiking Day’

In Vorarlberg and Tyrol, however, it may already start to rain, especially south and along the main ridge of the Alps.

Early temperatures in Austria are expected to be between one and eleven degrees, with lower values in the north and daytime highs of 15C to 21C.

Screenshot from ZAMG

On Sunday, dense clouds will dominate and rain is expected in many places. However, a few sunny spells are quite possible in between, most likely in the north and east of the country.

Mostly weak to moderate winds from south to west. Early temperatures will be between six and twelve degrees and daytime highs between 13 and 18 degrees.

READ ALSO: What’s on: Five things to do in Vienna this weekend

On Monday, sun and partly dense clouds will alternate. In the course of the day, there may be rain showers, especially in the mountains, where the clouds are often thicker.

Early temperatures will be between six and twelve degrees, with daily highs between 13C and 19C.

READ ALSO: Top tips to protect yourself from storms in Austria

Stormy weather from Tuesday

On Tuesday, the unsettled weather will continue. Although there may be sunny spells sometimes, clouds will predominate.

Rain showers are expected in all parts of the country, and it could rain for longer periods in some areas.

Early temperatures are between six and twelve degrees, and daily highs are between eleven and 17 degrees.

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