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HEALTH

More pay and longer holidays: How Austria hopes to attract 75,000 new nurses

The Federal Government unveiled a package looking to attract more than 75,000 new workers to the nursing and care professions - including people from abroad.

Austria is experiencing a shortage of nurses. Photo by Luis Melendez on Unsplash
Austria is experiencing a shortage of nurses. Photo by Luis Melendez on Unsplash

Austria has unveiled a €1 billion reform package to improve working conditions for health sector professionals.

In a press release this Thursday, Health Minister Johannes Rauch (Greens) said that the package would include higher salaries for nurses.

“There will be massive measures to make the nursing profession more attractive”, the minister said.

For 2022 and 2023, the government will offer a total of €520 million as a monthly salary bonus for the professionals, Rauch said. This should last initially for at least two years until other measures start taking effect.

Training for the career will also receive investments, according to the minister. There will be a federal training subsidy of at least €600 per month.

In addition, a nursing scholarship for those switching (or switching back) to the nursing profession of up to €1,400 will be funded by the Austrian Employment Agency AMS.

READ ALSO: Everything foreigners need to know about the Austrian healthcare system

As a measure to protect workers and keep them from turning to other professions, the government explained that all those older than 43 years old will receive an extra week of paid holidays. Additionally, all employees in inpatient long-term care will receive two hours of time credit per night shift.

​​Among the more than 20 measures that the Ministry will detail in the coming days are steps to increase help for those in need of care and of relatives that care for their families, according to the statements given in the press release.

Caring relatives will receive a family bonus of €1,500 per year if they provide most of the care at home and are themselves insured or co-insured. The employment in 24-hour care is also to be “made more attractive” – but details are still pending.

Bringing in international help

The government is also turning outside of Austria and the European Union to attract more professionals.

In the future, nurses who complete vocational training will receive “significantly more” points in the process to access the so-called Rot Weiss Rot (RWR) residence permit. They will also increase the points given for older professionals, facilitating the entry of nurses from 40 to 50 years old.

RWR applicants need to reach a certain threshold of points based on criteria including age and education to get the permit.

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

The recognition of training acquired abroad will be significantly simplified, accelerated and debureaucratised, the government promises. And nurses will be able to work as nursing assistants until the formal recognition of their foreign qualifications is completed.

Long-needed reform

“People in care work have long deserved these improvements”, Rauch said.

The government expects the package to create more than 75,000 new workers to fill the thousands of open positions in the sector by 2030.

Green Party leader Sigrid Maurer stated that the measures will be an essential step towards gender equality. “After all, it is mainly women who work in the care professions, especially taking care of relatives at home”.

READ ALSO: Austria’s former health minister becomes best-selling author

The government announcement comes as several protests are scheduled to take place throughout Austria this Thursday, which is also Tag der Pflege (Day of Care).

Health and care sector professionals are taking to the streets to demand better hours and pay and protest against staff shortage, overload, and burn-out.

“We have been calling for better conditions and better pay for years. Thousands of beds are now empty because we don’t have enough staff. In Styria, about 3,000 of a total of 13,000 beds in the nursing sector are currently closed,” Beatrix Eiletz, head of the works council of Styrian Volkshilfe told the daily Der Standard.

READ ALSO: How Covid absences are disrupting Austrian hospitals, schools and transport

It is not uncommon that nurses will quit their jobs and move to completely different professions, thereby increasing the gap, the report added.

The problem is an old one in Austria – but it has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.

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POLITICS

‘Taboo in Austrian society’: How women still face barriers accessing abortion

Abortion may be decriminalised in Austria, but there are several hurdles women must go through which can make it incredibly difficult in much of the country.

'Taboo in Austrian society': How women still face barriers accessing abortion

Nobody knows exactly how many women get abortions yearly in Austria, though estimates are around 30,000 a year.

There are no reliable concrete numbers because the procedure is not covered by health insurance in the country, people need to pay for it themselves, and therefore not measured by Statistik Austria.

Optative abortion has been a decriminalised medical procedure since 1975 in Austria. Women can discontinue a pregnancy per choice within the first three months – before the 16th pregnancy week, counting from the date of the last menstrual period.

They must go through a consultation with a doctor but don’t have to disclose the reasons for the abortion. Instead, the consultation will usually decide which abortion method is better for the patient’s case.

READ ALSO: Reader question: Is abortion legal in Austria?

But prices are high, starting at around €350 to €550, which patients must pay themselves. Even finding someone to perform the procedure can be difficult. 

“There is a need for uniform pricing and the assumption of costs by health insurance companies, as well as nationwide offers by clinics that offer abortions (at best both medicinal and surgical, so that those affected have a choice)”, says Anna Maria Lampert, a board member of CHANGES for women a non-profit association in Vienna that assist women with information and financing for abortion procedures.

Lampert explains that some Austrian states have few or no offer of abortion clinics or doctors qualified to make the procedure.

“In Burgenland, there is neither a public hospital nor a private clinic offering abortions. In Vorarlberg, Tyrol and Upper Austria, there is only one doctor in each province, with no backup staffing”, she says.

This also raises costs, as many people need to travel to get the procedure.

According to Austrian law, medical staff can also refuse to participate in abortion based on their personal beliefs, making the practice even more taboo, especially outside of the capital Vienna.

“Abortion is still a big taboo in Austrian society. In rural areas, people don’t get in touch with the topic. CHANGES for women are often either the only contact point for women with unwanted pregnancies or the only ones who treat them with respect and without judgement or prejudice.”

READ ALSO: Violence against women in the spotlight in Austria after horrific killings

Lampert also mentioned that the topic is often depicted in a “very dramatic” way in the media, showing people who get abortions as “traumatised and self-centred”.

“It would be much easier if the political and social environment would react more favourably and accept each individual’s personal decision”, she adds.

Still, women have the right

Even though they need to cover the costs themselves, the fact that people do have a choice to get an abortion – without having to justify their decision – is still a differential in Austria. Especially taking into account the different policies of neighbouring countries.

Feminist collective Ciocia Wienia supports people from Poland and other countries where access to abortion is difficult or impossible in organising a legal procedure in Vienna.

“We provide information about reproductive rights and available forms of abortion in Austria. We help organise travel, accommodation, abortion procedure, and translation. Whenever possible, we offer financial support”, the group – which prefers to work anonymously, told The Local.

The fact that in Austria, abortion is legal and can be done anonymously allows the group to help women get access to the procedure. Even if they are not Austrians nor legal residents.

READ ALSO: Austria’s top court legalises same-sex marriage

“People do not even have to speak German. The clinics we work with speak multiple languages, and our volunteers also assist as translators when necessary. Additionally, people do not have to use their real names at the clinic”, the group tells us.

This was the case with Lilian, who found out she was pregnant while moving back to her home country in South America – where elective abortions are illegal – and came back to Austria to get the procedure anonymously.

“The feeling of insecurity and the lack of legal support made me give up trying to get an abortion in my home country. I had a link to a country where it was legalised, I could have medical support and do it in a respectful way, so I came back”.

She said the process was relatively simple: she found the clinic after an online search, sent them an email and scheduled the appointment. There, she had a private consultation with a doctor who explained her options and how the procedure would go. Then, in less than an hour, everything was done, and she could go home.

“The overall impression is that it is done in a respectful and humane way. There was no judgement at any part of the process, only guidance and an educational part on how to avoid reoccurrence”, she explains to The Local.

Many clinics in Vienna offer abortion and several other reproductive services, including regular gynecologic appointments, orientation for young girls, and contraceptive implants, for example.

Reproductive rights

The activists in Austria demand not only that costs for the procedure be taken by health insurers but also free access to contraceptives and care.

“The ultimate goal of our activism is a total decriminalisation of abortion and free and safe of other reproductive rights, such as emergency contraception, abortion, sterilisation, and anonymous birth”, Ciocia Wienia says.

Anna Maria, with CHANGES for women, agrees that the measures need to start earlier: “to prevent unwanted pregnancies, there needs to be free access to the contraceptive of choice and up-to-date sexual education for all”.

There has been very little political talk about changing medical coverage or reproductive laws in Austria, but the situation in the United States, where a leaked Supreme Court draft document showed the court is now in favour of overturning the ruling that made abortion legal has brought the issue of reproductive rights back to the centre stage worldwide – including in the alpine country.

Useful links

Termination of pregnancy – the federal government
Abortion – Gesundheit.gv.at
Women’s rights group and feminist collectives – CHANGES for women and Ciocia Wienia

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