Europe is entirely in the firm grip of the Corona crisis and urgent measures for the protection of workers are required. Together with the Austrian Trade Union Federation (ÖGB), the AK is successfully fighting for preserving as many jobs as possible. During the night of March 17th, an agreement was reached with the Chamber of Commerce regarding a short-time work regulation, which secures income and provides protection against dismissal – to the benefit of all.
Especially in times of crisis, a well-working social dialogue is essential to prevent existing rights from being undermined and to protect workers and jobs against disastrous consequences. To deal with the Corona crisis, the package of the Austrian social partners includes measures designed cushion the social and economic consequences of the pandemic for the labour market. By negotiating and finalizing the package, the Austrian Trade Union Federation (ÖGB) and the Chamber of Labour (AK) achieved a great success. For example, measures such as the Corona short-time work will be able to safeguard jobs and incomes. Employees must work at least ten percent of their current working hours during the entire period of short-time work (e.g. 3 months). It is also possible to spread working hours; for example, employees might be able to work zero hours during the first week(s) and increase them accordingly later. The AK advises employees against hastily signing mutually agreed contract terminations and urges employers to check the possibility of short-time work.
Corona short-time work
To prevent dismissals, businesses and associations may decide to introduce short-time work with manageable bureaucratic effort. Social partnership institutions offer their support along the process of introducing short-term work. During corona short-time work, employees retain between 80 and 90 % of their income, despite their temporarily reduced working hours. A decisive factor for the salary paid during short-time work is the amount of their current net salary. Apprentices are entitled to 100 % of their pay. Initially, short-time work will be limited to three months; if required, it can be extended by further three months. During the period of Corona short-time work, employees must continue to work at least 10 % of their working hours. However, these working hours can be achieved during a single week. If need be, employees may reduce their working hours to 0 % for the remaining weeks. Businesses are only paying for working hours that employees actually perform. Everything else - besides salaries/wages also social security contributions - is taken over by the AMS. Both the 13th and 14th monthly salary is paid in full; employees are fully entitled to their benefits, including 100 % for leave periods. Despite short-time work, employees are fully paid during their holidays. Any sick leaves during short-time work will also be fully paid. However, requests by employers to use existing time credit and accrued holidays have to be met.
All employees are protected against dismissal during the entire period of short-time work - and for a subsequent month. As soon as an application has been filed, employers are no longer allowed to serve a notice of dismissal due to operating conditions. Dismissals by employees are still possible, as are amicable dissolutions of employment contracts. The latter require the manifest opportunity of employees to receive advice from works councils or trade unions. In the case of amicable dissolutions, businesses are not obliged to hire new employees. In the event of an employee terminating employment, unemployment benefits are only paid after four weeks. If an employment contract is terminated out of fear of the Coronavirus, it will be reviewed individually whether leniency reasons exist, which would mean that unemployment benefit would be paid instantly. The AMS provides job seekers with online information on how to maintain the communication with the AMS during the crisis.
The situation for freelancers
Unfortunately, labour law provisions rarely apply to freelancers; hence, short-time work provisions also cannot be applied to the same extent. However, the COVID-19 crisis response fund, set up by the Federal Government cannot only be used by entrepreneurs, but also by freelancers. In this case, an application has to be filed to the competent body of the Chamber of Commerce.
Successful negotiations also in other European countries
Other European countries also managed to find solutions to protect employees and to safeguard jobs; after all, currently all European economies are currently in crisis modus. However, at 60 % of the net salary, the net replacement rates of short-time work in Germany - depending on the collective agreement - is significantly below the Austrian compromise. France and Belgium offers 70 % of the gross salary to employees working short-term. Der European Trade Confederation (ETUC) vehemently advocates for fair and socially balanced measures at European level. Hence, so-called Covid Bonds and postponing country recommendations were demanded on March 24th. Apart from that, ETUC has compiled an overview of measures taken in EU Member States.
The AK and the ÖGB have set up - and continuously update a dedicated homepage jobundcorona.at that answers frequently asked questions regarding labour law, Corona short-time work and consumer rights. All answers are available in different languages. In addition, the AK is available to answer questions by phone under 0800 22 12 00 80 (within Austria), an offer that is used by thousands of members on a daily basis. The AK will fight for the interest of their members also in times of Corona.
AK Corona Service Hotline: 0800 22 12 00 80 (within Austria)