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Will a 4-day week and free German lessons help Vienna’s transport network find staff?

Amanda Previdelli
Amanda Previdelli - [email protected]
Will a 4-day week and free German lessons help Vienna’s transport network find staff?
Wiener Linien is treating all single tickets purchased Friday as full-day tickets. (Copyright: @Manfred Helmer / Winier Linien)

Vienna's state-owned public transport company, Wiener Linien, is thinking outside the box to fill staff shortages, including lowering the German language requirements and offering a 4-day work week.

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Austria's Wiener Linien, the city-owned company that runs the public transport in the capital Vienna, needs to hire hundreds of workers this year, Austrian media has reported.

In 2022, the company responsible for the buses, trams, and metros in Vienna will see around 600 employees from the so-called "baby boomer generation" retiring.

And even though the company has seen a certain degree of digitisation of its service, it still relies heavily on the "human factor", managing director Alexandra Reinagl told ORF.

As it expands and serves more people each year, Wiener Linien is struggling to hire around 900 employees already in 2022.

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Why is it so hard to find workers?

The phenomenon of a labour shortage is not specific to Wiener Linien - or even to Austria only. As population ages and birth rates go down, many European countries struggle to renovate their workforce.

READ ALSO: IN NUMBERS: One in four Austrian residents now of foreign origin

The Austrian population of just about 8.8 million people is only still growing because of immigration, as Statistik Austria’s director general Tobias Thomas explained.

He said: "Without it, according to the population forecast, the number of inhabitants would fall back to the level of the 1950s in the long term”.

Additionally, unemployment in Austria is at record lows at the same time as there are increasing numbers of open positions. In many sectors (but particularly in the industrial and commercial), companies have difficulty finding workers.

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

So, companies are finding it difficult to hire qualified workers all over Europe. In Austria, a country with a large group of immigrants and a relatively tricky official language, one issue comes up more and more: German requirements.

This is one of the barriers that Wiener Linien wants to tackle.

Wiener Linien is also looking for part-time metro drivers. (Copyright: @Johannes Zinner / Wiener Linien)

What is the Wiener Linien doing to end staff shortages?

The state-owned company is perhaps the first of its kind to start looking into significantly lowering German-language requirements for its workers.

"We are thinking about how we can make our working conditions even more attractive so that we also appeal to people who are unsure of their German language skills", Alexandra Reinagl said.

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

The company wants first to hire and then invest in German tutoring to get workers to the necessary level in the language. The premise is clear: it is now easier to learn German than to find employees. 

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She added: "Often the technical understanding and the will are there, but the language skills are not".

Four-day work week

The public company also wants to attract workers by offering them more flexible working hours. To prepare for that, Wiener Linien is starting a pilot test for a four-day work week from autumn onwards.

The pilot project would involve 300 employees, and, to avoid salary cuts, the only changes would be in the distribution of the 37.5 hours of work per week. So, workers would stay for longer shifts for four days and, on the other hand, have three days off from work every week.

READ ALSO: Explained: How to understand your payslip in Austria

The project is similar to other attempts, including by Belgium, to allow people to work longer for fewer days. The concept has also been debated in Switzerland, France, and Germany, among other countries worldwide, as The Local reported.

The company runs the bus, tram, and metro lines in Vienna (Copyright: @Johannes Zinner / Wiener Linien)

The Wiener Linien proposal is facing some criticism, though. Some experts have called it "cheating" as while it may reduce the workload to four days, it technically doesn't lower the weekly amount of hours people have to work in a week. 

They argue that longer days lead to more exhaustion, raising the risk of accidents and could be a problem for single parents who also have to deal with childcare.

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Other perks by Wiener Linien

The transport company has an comprehensive recruiting website, with Wilma "the recruiting bot" to assist people with job searches within the company.

There are currently 127 jobs in the Jobs portal, where the transport firm advertises its advantages, including offering safe, "future-proof" and climate-friendly jobs and having "award-winning company health management" that offers preventive vaccinations, nutritional advice, and fitness courses.

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

Winier Linien also says it provides a work-life balance with a full-time week adding to 37.5 hours and the possibility of part-time employment.

"We support our employees from the very beginning in their personal and professional development", the company claims, adding that employees can also ride in Viennese public transport for free.

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