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Is Austria planning to adopt a 4-day week?

Amanda Previdelli
Amanda Previdelli - [email protected] • 27 Feb, 2023 Updated Mon 27 Feb 2023 17:31 CEST
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(Photo by ludovic MARIN / AFP)

As calls for making full-time work more attractive rise, Austrian companies and unions are looking for ways to bring in more employees.


Austrian Labour Minister Martin Kocher (ÖVP) stirred debate when he said the country should make full-time work more attractive - and discussed possibly reducing benefits for those on a part-time job. 

Despite strong criticism, with many saying such a move would not bring more people to full-time but instead would hurt women who work part-time and care for children and older relatives, he recently doubled down during a broadcast interview in ZIB2 on Sunday.

He said that the "demographic change" in Austria, with many people set to retire in the next few years just as companies would need more workers, puts pressure on the labour system.  


What is the work week like now?

Currently, a work week in Austria averages 40 hours, but the actual amount will depend on collective bargaining and even individual contracts. Some industries have a working week of 38 hours, for example. 

By law, workers can have a shift duration of up to twelve hours (with 30-minute breaks every six hours). At the end of the work day, the employee is entitled to an uninterrupted rest period of at least eleven hours. The weekly rest period will also depend on working agreements, but in principle, consists of uninterrupted 36 hours. 

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This is all for a full-time job, but employees and employers can agree on different relationships, including "flexitime", with start and end times for work within a framework, forming "blocks of work", for example. 

Part-time work would be anything below 40 hours or a shorter standard working time stipulated by the collective agreement.  The law states that part-time employees may not be disadvantaged compared to full-time workers and are only required to work overtime if it fits with their own interests (such as with balancing childcare, for example).

What is the 4-day week proposal?

The main proposal on the table is defended by trade unions in Austria. The workers' representatives want to introduce a 36-hour week with full wage compensation. In many cases, the number of hours wouldn't be drastically reduced. Instead, workers would concentrate them on 9-hour work days. 

Some unions go further, mentioning experiments in IT companies in Vienna which switched to 32-hour weeks with good results. 

On Monday, February 27th, SPÖ trade unionist Josef Muchitsch spoke on the Ö1 radio program in favour of a pilot trial based on the British model. A UK study published in February showed the results of a four-day week: employees were sick less often, changed jobs less frequently, were more satisfied and less stressed. 

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At the same time, productivity did not suffer. On the contrary, 56 of the 61 companies from a wide range of industries that took part in the pilot project want to stick with a shorter week, as broadcaster ORF reported.

The employers' side is not very enthusiastic about this, Ö1 reported. However, trade unionist Muchitisch said there is "no way around" a shorter week.

"If you want to keep good people in these companies and industries, there is no stopping this train", he said.


How likely is it to be introduced?

A 4-day week has its controversy, especially when speaking with employers. However, economists have said that a trial could be conceivable in individual sectors, including creative industries, management professions and service professions with a high proportion of digitalisation. 

"What can be a problem is if you introduce this across all industries in one fell swoop", said Eco Austria's economist Monika Köppl-Turyna. 

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She added: "Let's take other industries that the union doesn't cite for good reason: A police officer can't increase productivity any more, nor can a teacher. Health professions, which are already under high pressure, can't do as much in 30 hours as they can in 40."

However, Austrian companies already suffering the pressure of the labour shortage could adopt a 4-day week earlier than a nationwide trial. IT companies already offer benefits including a shorter week, flexible work hours or hybrid work. But even more, traditional industries have gone this route searching for workers. 

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Vienna's publicly-owned Wiener Linien, which operates public transport services in the Austrian capital, has introduced certain benefits to workers and has an ongoing pilot program with some employees working four days a week. Employees still work 37.5 hours a week but spread those out over four days. 

It's too early to know the full results, but as the company was looking to hire 900 people to replace a retiring workforce, it had to make jobs more attractive.



Amanda Previdelli 2023/02/27 17:31

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