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

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.

Will a 4-day week and free German lessons help Vienna’s transport network find staff?
A Wiener Linien tram rides through Vienna (Copyright: @Manfred Helmer / Winier Linien)

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.

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. 

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.

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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WORKING IN AUSTRIA

EU takes action against Austria on working rights

Austria comes up short in areas such as 'transparent and predictable working conditions' and 'promotion of equality in the labour market', the EU Commission has said.

EU takes action against Austria on working rights

The EU Commission has reprimanded Austria on several labour market issues, according to a press statement by the Brussels-based authority.

Austria is lagging in properly implementing EU regulations in “transparent and predictable working conditions” and “promotion of equality in the labour market”.

After the European Union sends out directives to member states, it also sets a deadline for the countries to bring the EU-agreed rules to the national level.

READ ALSO: 10 ways EU countries aim to cut energy bills and avoid blackouts this winter

The first directive for “transparent and predictable working conditions” provides more extensive and updated labour rights and protection to the 182 million workers in the European Union.

The EU Commission stated: “With the new rules, workers have, for instance, the right to more predictability regarding assignments and working time. They will also have the right to receive timely and more complete information about the essential aspects of their job, such as place of work and remuneration”.

Austria and 18 other member states have failed to communicate the complete transposition of the directive into national law by the deadline of August 1st.

READ ALSO: 10 ways EU countries aim to cut energy bills and avoid blackouts this winter

Promotion of equality in the labour market

Additionally, Austria has failed to notify national measures transposing the “Work-Life Balance Directive” by the EU and has been notified along with 18 other countries.

The directive “aims to ensure equality in labour market participation by encouraging equal sharing of care responsibilities between parents”.

“It introduced paternity leave, ensuring that fathers/second parents have the right to take at least ten working days of paternity leave around the time of birth of the child. The Directive also establishes a minimum of four months of parental leave, with at least two of the four months non-transferable from one parent to another.

READ ALSO: Non-EU family members of EU citizens can obtain long-term residence, court rules

“It establishes five working days per year of carers’ leave for each worker providing personal care or support to a relative or person living in the same household and gives all working parents of children up to at least eight years old and all carers a right to request flexible working arrangements.”

The Austrian federal government now has two months to respond to the EU Commission’s letter of formal notice, otherwise, it faces another warning – and could eventually see its case going to the European Court of Justice.

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