How many individuals and organisations are advocating the topic of working time reduction in your country and do you form partnerships?
We are The Austrian Union Produktionsgewerkschaft (PRO-GE) – Union of industrial and manufacturing workers and we represent blue-collar workers in the sectors of metal industry, chemical industry, textile industry, food industry and the corresponding manufacturing sectors, agricultural and forestry workers as well as blue-collar contract workers in all sectors. Considering the topic of working time reduction, we have a growing institutionalised collaboration with other unions, NGOs, scholars and interested individuals about this topic. One part is a circle for scientific research and exchange of experiences. In this context, we are also working on strategies to reframe the working time discussion.
What is your group`s actual proposal for the reduction of working time?
An innovative and clever reduction of working time can be achieved through the combination of various measures on different levels. Our main goal at the moment is to counter the debate of ever increasing working time and flexibility with a strategy of increasing autonomy. This has (at least) three components: First, the reduction of working time. Second, autonomy for the employees (the right to choose between bonus time or money; the right to choose the date when you will consume your bonus time; the right to determine your own working time within a set framework). Third is the compatibility with family, education, hobbies, political activities, personal needs…
We have demands and do work on different levels: Change of the law / federal level, the level of sector-wide collective agreements as well as agreements on the company level: we represent a lot of industrial workers doing shift work and working under difficult conditions (physically demanding work, lifting of heavy work, cold, heat, vibration etc.). In Austria, we have many legal provisions that already provide for certain things that are unknown in other countries or are still on the demand list of the unions. There is for instance a legal right to a part time job for parents and (more important) a legal right to return to full-time afterwards. Next to the reduction of the daily or weekly working time, we also consider that it is important to talk about the yearly working time (eg. one more week of paid holiday leave) and all the overall working time during your entire working life.
Who do you encounter as opponents and what are their counterarguments?
Main opponents are employers: main argument is additional costs. The second is government: since we have a right-wing anti- workers government in Austria since December 2017 things have gotten worse:
- The maximum working hours have been increased to 12 hour work day and a 60 hour working week.
- The increase of the possibilities of – employer driven – working time flexibility (this includes a significant expansion of working time in peaks and a loss of overtime surcharges).
- The reduction of the power of unions by ruling out the sectoral collective agreements and concentrating on the individual company level. The Government has very close bonds with the employers’ associations, in particular the association of industrialists (“Federation of Austrian industrialists” who is not an official social partner by the way) and willingly fulfils their wishes.
What is the public opinion on working time reduction in your country?
It’s very mixed – things and attitude are changing. Especially young treasure the value of free time, gender stereotypes are slowly changing (e.g. fathers want to spend more time with their kids). Hesitancy results from the pessimistic expectation that a reduction of working time is connected to a loss of income.
What is your next step in the campaign? And what are your short-term, medium-term and long-terms objectives?
We currently do not have a specific campaign towards working time reduction. One of the reasons is that we currently fight a couple of defensive battles against the reactionary and aggressive government policies. There is a general goal for every collective agreement to take progressive working time issues into account, e.g. the possibility to choose between time and money. We will of course also continue to work in lobbying and cooperating with our allies.