Seasonal workers in Austria: What’s the situation for winter 2021?

The Austrian Chamber of Commerce told The Local that the tourism industry is short of around 20,000 workers ahead of the winter season. We spoke to experts to find out what's caused the problem and what the possible solutions are.

Cable cars and skiers in Austria
Tens of thousands of staff keep Austria's ski resorts, hotels and restaurants running smoothly. Photo: Daniel Frank/Unsplash

Who can move to Austria for seasonal work?

Citizens of an EU/EEA country are allowed to move to Austria to live and work under EU freedom of movement.

For people living outside the bloc, there is a requirement to apply for a seasonal work permit.

This means the employment needs to meet certain criteria for wages and accommodation, they must be able to prove no qualified Austrian or EU worker was available (for example, by showing that the job was advertised within Austria and the EU without finding a suitable applicant) and crucially, there must be a slot available under the Austrian quota for seasonal workers, which varies between sector and region.

In the tourism industry, the national quota is 1,263, and although there is some leeway, this cannot be exceeded by more than 20 percent.

That’s despite the significant contributions made to the Austrian economy by foreign workers.

Thomas Geiger of the Tyrol Chamber of Commerce told The Local that pre-pandemic, Tyrol employed up to 60,000 employees in the hotel and hospitality business at peak times, 40,000 of whom are considered as “purely seasonal workers”.

What are the Covid restrictions in place?

Restrictions apply both to staff and customers at ski resorts, hotels, restaurants, and other hospitality businesses.

For example, in so-called night gastronomy — a term used in Austria to cover clubs, bars and late-night dining — workers need to have proof of 3G or 2.5G, meaning vaccination, recovery, or a negative PCR test, depending on where they are in the country.

But Austria’s 3G system only recognises vaccines which were approved for use by the EU. That’s a problem for some of the countries which typically provide a lot of seasonal workers. For example, in neighbouring Hungary, the Russian vaccine Sputnik V was widely used, but this is not yet recognised in Austria.

Workers who received a non-recognised vaccine would therefore need to take tests repeatedly, and risk needing to quarantine if they test positive during their stay.

What’s the impact?

Right now, it’s impossible to say exactly how many workers the tourism industry will be short of, but estimates are in the thousands. A representative from the tourism department of the Chamber of Commerce told The Local that the industry was short by around 20,000 workers.

“This phenomenon affects almost all industries and countries. But especially tourism, [because the industry] already grew faster than the number of available workers before Corona. This problem was exacerbated because many employees migrated to other industries during the corona lockdown phases and apprentices could not be trained,” the spokesperson said.

The Tyrol regional chamber of commerce has requested that the quota for seasonal workers from outside the EU be increased tenfold, from just under 300 to 3,000.

“At present there are still about 7,500 vacancies [in the hospitality industry], about 5,000 specialists and 2,500 auxiliary workers,” said Geiger. “At the start of the season, many of these positions will still be unoccupied and some companies will have to restrict their offering. Closed hotel restaurants or switching from a half-board to breakfast-only offer are just some of the examples we are already aware of.”

The country is unevenly affected; ski resorts, which are only open for part of the year, are far more likely to rely on seasonal workers than tourism businesses in urban areas.

A press spokesperson for a business representing 30 hotels across Austria told The Local they were not affected by the lack of seasonal workers since their hotels were all in cities. Although foreign workers made up a large proportion of their workforce, the spokesperson said that offering longer contracts meant they were not seeing the same issues in recruitment, though they acknowledged that in a growing sector it was always a challenge to hire qualified workers.

What happens now?

The Chamber of Commerce told us that “negotiations are ongoing” regarding solutions such as an increased quota or a different type of permit for tourism professionals.

Workers in the hospitality sector already have access to free regular PCR tests through work as part of a nationwide initiative called Safe Hospitality which was extended in the government’s recently announced plans for the winter tourism season.

It will also be possible for seasonal workers to take an antibody test, which is currently valid as 3G proof for 90 days after a result showing antibodies against Covid-19.

Another option is that workers who received a vaccine without EMA approval could get a booster of an approved vaccine in order to access Austria’s Green Pass. The Vorarlberg region is preparing doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to be offered as an option to seasonal workers, as the ORF broadcaster reported on Wednesday, because this is recognised as offering protection after only one dose.

However, this then raises the question of whether the mixed vaccination would cause issues for the workers when they return home, depending on how any Covid pass system in their home country works.

Additional measures suggested by Thomas Geiger of the Tyrol Chamber of Commerce included tax benefits for seasonal work so that these jobs can be made more attractive for employees, and an increased possibility to hire workers from outside the EU where staff cannot be found within Austria and the EU.

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Jobs in Austria: What types of jobs are in demand and where?

Austria has hit its lowest unemployment rate in years. There are still thousands of open positions, and demand is high for workers in the country. Here's what you need to know.

Jobs in Austria: What types of jobs are in demand and where?

Despite the coronavirus pandemic, the war and Ukraine, rising inflation and supply bottlenecks, Austrians had one piece of particularly good news in the last few days: the unemployment rate reached a record low, according to Public Employment Service Austria (AMS).

In May, the unemployment rate was at 5.7 per cent, the lowest rate in 14 years and 20.6 per cent lower than in May 2021. At the same time, though, there was a record of open positions, according to the employment agency.

By the end of the month, more than 138,000 vacancies were registered as immediately available with AMS.

READ ALSO: Six official websites to know if you’re planning to work in Austria

The job monitor of the ÖVP-Wirtschaftsbund, which evaluates all online job advertisements in Austria, currently counts more than 281,000 vacancies – the difference is due to the fact that not every employer registers a position with the AMS.

Moreover, some posts are only advertised with the Austrian authority after weeks or months on other platforms.

But where are these jobs?

Upper Austria has the most open positions

Upper Austria, the northern state bordering Germany and the Czech Republic, is where most of the vacancies are, according to data from AMS.

Just about 23 per cent of all open positions are in the state, and the number of vacancies increased by 51.4 per cent compared to the year before.

Lower Austria has 15.6 per cent of the vacancies, followed by Styria (14.5 per cent) and Vienna (14.4 per cent).

Burgenland, Austria’s least populous state, has just about 2 per cent of the open positions, according to AMS data.

Tyrol is the state where the number of vacancies has grown the most, 77.2 per cent compared to the same period in 2021.

Which sectors need more people?

One-third of the vacancies in Austria are in the industrial and commercial sectors, according to the employment agency.

Services, including gastronomy and hospitality, have a high demand for workers and are also the sector where demand increased the most after the pandemic – the increase was 71.1 per cent.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How to find a summer job in Austria?

According to the ÖVP-Wirtschaftsbund data, about 15 per cent of job vacancies in Austria are in the tourism sector. Travel and services have certainly taken a hit during the pandemic years, especially in countries heavily dependent on it, such as Austria.

Austrian workers’ associations have been warning of impending chaos in the sector, especially as the tourist and summer seasons approach.

“The summer season is just around the corner, and tourism companies will not find workers,” the head of Wirtschaftsbund Kurt Egger told Die Presse. The association proposes double the quotas for tourism seasonal workers from outside the EU to 4000 as an immediate measure.

READ ALSO: How Austria is making it easier for non-EU workers to get residence permits

The federal government has also announced a comprehensive reform in its residence permits and work visas to attract more workers into shortage occupations and make it easier for high-skilled professionals to immigrate to Austria.

However, the changes are not simple, and new systems could take months to implement.

Who are the unemployed in Austria?

Though the unemployment rate is low, more than 235,000 people are registered as unemployed with the AMS. However, the number is 80 per cent lower than the year before.

Most are men (53.9 per cent) and Austrians (65.1 per cent). They are also young, with 56 per cent between the ages of 25 to 49.

Austria has broad support systems for its unemployed, with monthly payments, assistance with job seeking and free courses for those looking for jobs.