Worker participation - Austria
Reka Zayzon, Kooperationsstelle Hamburg IFE GmbH, Germany
- 1 Introduction
- 2 Regulatory framework for worker participation
- 3 OSH and worker participation
- 3.1 National level
- 3.2 The Parity Commission
- 3.3 The OSH Advisory Board
- 3.4 Occupational Safety and Health Strategy Expert Committee
- 3.5 Regional level
- 3.6 Sectoral level
- 3.7 Company level
- 4 Evidence on worker participation
- 5 References
- 6 Further reading
Various forms of worker participation and involvement are established in Austria. This article covers forms of direct participation like information, consultation and delegation (individual and group level), as well as representative participation, including joint consultation, co-determination, and collective bargaining, with special focus on OSH matters. The article will focus on the describing the legal instruments, as well as the implementation at different levels (cross-industry, sectoral and company). An overview of worker participation methods can be found in Methods and effects of worker participation and Occupational safety and health management systems and workers’ participation.
Regulatory framework for worker participation
At the international level, regulatory provisions on worker participation are contained in Article 19 of ILO Convention C-155. This convention has not been ratified by Austria. Article 12 of the (non-binding) ILO Recommendation R-164 describes more specific rights and options for employees and their representatives with respect to worker participation. Recommendation R-129 contains general recommendations on communication between employers and workers.
At the European level, employee participation is referred to in Council Directive 2001/86/EC , in Directive 2002/14/EC  and, with special regard to OSH, in the Framework Directive 89/391/EEC. These legal acts complement the Statute for a European Company regarding the involvement of employees.
Information and consultation
Council Directive 2001/86/EC applies to 'European companies' (SE), i.e. large companies with locations in different EU member states. The directive stipulates that procedures informing and consulting employees at transnational level must be ensured in SE, as well as any applicable worker participation. The directive was transposed into Austrian law in the Federal Act amending the Labour Constitution Act (ʽGesellschaftsrechtsänderungsgesetzʼ – GesRÄG 2004).
The European Directive 2002/14/EC has established a general legal framework for informing and consulting workers. It applies to undertakings with over 50 staff or establishments with over 20. It requires employers to inform and consult employees (via representatives) in three specific areas:
- recent and probable development of the undertaking's or the establishment's activities and economic situation;
- situation, structure and probable development of employment and any anticipatory measures envisaged;
- decisions likely to lead to substantial changes in work organisation or in contractual relations.
Existing national provisions proved to be a barrier for the harmonisation of the legal systems for informing and consulting workers. As in a number of other member states, in Austria, it was not considered necessary to take any further transposition measures. Corresponding provisions on worker participation can be found in the Labour Constitution Act (ʽArbeitsverfassungsgesetzʼ - ArbVG), issued in 1974 and modified several times, the last amendment being in 2010. Further sector-specific rules were established by the Vienna Directive on Agricultural Work (ʽWiener Landarbeitsordnungʼ 1990), the Vienna Law on Staff Representation (ʽWiener Personalvertretungsgesetzʼ) , and the Law on Agricultural Work (ʽLandarbeitsgesetzʼ 1984). 
The main legal source for worker information and consultation in respect of OSH issues on a European level is the OSH Framework Directive 89/391/EEC. Worker participation is a fundamental part of the OSH management framework promoted in this directive.
In the reform period of the 1970s, a new framework for worker participation was established through the Worker Protection Act (ʽArbeitnehmerschutzgesetzʼ, 1972) and the Labour Constitution Act (ʽArbeitsverfassungsgesetzʼ, 1974), in Austria. The Worker Protection Act, which applied to all employees (except public sector, agriculture, mining and home-workers), required employers to assure safe and healthy working conditions, and also set the basis for employee participation in OSH matters. §20 of the Act describes the different forms of worker representation in OSH matters such as safety representatives, works councils and the OSH committee. A detailed description of these follows in subsequent sections.
In the course of European integration, Austria has modernised its OSH standards. The Occupational Safety and Health Framework Directive was transposed by the 1994 OSH Act (ʽArbeitnehmerinnenschutzgesetzʼ – AschG) and related regulations. The new omnibus law replaced the previous Employee Protection Act. It has led to the gradual introduction of safety and health assistance for all employees (with certain exemptions for SMEs). The provisions for informing and consulting employees include: § 12 of the Act, which stipulates that employers must inform all workers about occupational risks in their workplaces and on related prevention measures, so that the workers can determine whether adequate preventive measures were taken. Information must be given during work (before commencing an activity). Information has to be given regularly, depending on the circumstances of each workplace, and should be updated to reflect current legislation. Employers must inform affected staff, especially in cases of potential danger. Information must be intelligible for employees, i.e. in their mother tongue or in a language they are proficient. Written information must be provided in the form of relevant documents and operation instructions, where necessary. The right of workers to be consulted on OSH is stipulated in § 13 of the OSH Act. Direct consultation and participation is necessary if there are no safety delegates in the workplace. For construction sites, where several companies might work simultaneously or in succession, the Act stipulates that employers must make arrangements in view of the workers consultation.
The Labour Constitution Act (ʽArbeitsverfassungsgesetzʼ - ArbVG) assigns workers the right of co-determination at company level on financial and social matters, carried out through supervisory boards. These supervisory boards are tasked with monitoring the management board, and they can be mandatory, depending on the type and size of establishment. According to §97 of the Act, agreements can be made between the works councils and the employers on measures and facilities for preventing accidents and occupational diseases, for protecting employeesʼ health, and on measures for decent working conditions.
OSH and worker participation
In Austria social dialogue is highly institutionalised at cross-sectoral, sectoral, and enterprise level, and in different policy fields. However, social dialogue regarding OSH matters is much less formalised than on incomes policy (wage control), and is initiated primarily on an ad-hoc basis. In Austria, social partnership is well established, based on an institutionalised system, comprising voluntary co-operation arrangements between the major economic interest groups, and with the government on legislation, administration, jurisdiction, and social security. This means that social partners have the right to make recommendations to the law-making bodies, to be represented on commissions, advisory boards, and social insurance institutions, to nominate candidates as lay judges in labour and social courts, and to delegate assessors for the cartel court. As a specific feature of Austrian social dialogue, collective agreements may cover all areas of economic and social policy, not only industrial relations.
Based on voluntary membership, the Austrian Trade Union Federation represents workers’ interests in collective agreements offering legal advice and representation, and many other benefits to its members. It also has a major role in developing new laws; not only to initiate the drafting of bills, but also to provide reviews and comments on bills submitted by other bodies, which are then incorporated in the decision-making process.
The Federal Chamber of Labour (Arbeiterkammer, BAK) is represented in the national tripartite bodies, but is not involved in collective agreement processes.
There are consultative bodies at national level, which provide a forum for advice and dialogue between the social partners on socio-economic federal matters: The Parity Commission (Paritätische Kommission), in particular through its subcommittee, the Advisory Council for Economic and Social Affairs (Beirat für Wirtschafts- und Sozialfragen), and the OSH Advisory Board (Arbeitnehmerschutzbeirat).
The Chambers of Labour (Arbeiterkammer, BAK) represent the interests of employees and consumers, including apprentices, those on maternity/paternity leave, as well as the unemployed and retired. It is based on compulsory membership for all employees (except civil servants and agricultural workers). In Austria, there are nine regional Chambers of Labour, corresponding to the federal states, which are all self-governing public corporations. The Vienna Chamber of Labour also acts as the administrative body of the Federal Chamber of Labour, which is the umbrella organisation of the nine regional Chambers. The Federal Chamber of Labour acts at national or cross-regional level.
Although involved in social partnership institutions, the Chambers of Labour do not negotiate collective agreements, This is done exclusively by trade union. The Chambers of Labour perform and support fundamental research for the benefit of workers and consumers, in order to foster workers interests in the political discourse and to serve as policy guidelines. They also participate in the legislative process, in that they have the right to evaluate draft legislation, propose amendments, and are involved in implementation.
The Chambers of Labour also provide information and advice in labour law, social insurance, and worker protection. They provide legal assistance to members in labour disputes with employers, and offer free representation for employees in Labour and Social Tribunals. The Chambers of Labour also provide trainings, further education, and cultural activities. At the European level, the Chamber of Labour has delegated representatives to the European Economic Social Committee and various committees and advisory bodies dealing with issues of social and education policy.
The Parity Commission
The cooperation of social partners has mainly been facilitated by the Parity Commission, which includes representatives of the government and four major interest groups. The Parity Commission has for subcommittees, the most relevant for OSH is the Advisory Council for Economic and Social Affairs. Its task is to make unanimous recommendations for the social partners, based on expert investigations of social and economic issues. 
The OSH Advisory Board
§91 of the Health and Safety at Work Act stipulates the establishment and composition of an OSH Advisory Board (Arbeitnehmerschutzbeirat), a tripartite body with a crucial role in developing legislation. It advises the Ministry of Labour, Health, and Social Affairs, informing it of the work of the prevention centers run by the accident insurance bodies. The OSH Advisory Board is convened by the Central Labour Inspectorate and includes two representatives each from the social partners and expert organisations, (e.g. the Chamber of Engineers, the Chamber of Medical Doctors), as well as from the Austrian Social Insurance for Occupational Risks. The activities of the OSH Advisory Board are honorary.
Occupational Safety and Health Strategy Expert Committee
In the Occupational Safety and Health Strategy Expert Committee, experts are represented from labour inspectorates, social security institutions, OSH services, national agencies, and social partners. They cooperated closely on the implementation of the Austrian Occupational Safety and Health Strategy 2007-2012.
Legal OSH stipulations at regional and company level include bi-annual meetings of the social partners with the Labour Inspectorate. The social partners are entitled to participate in certain inspection visits.
At regional level, the Chambers of Labour are prominent worker representation bodies. Their tasks have already been discussed above in section 3.1, in connection with the Federal Chamber of Labour. The regional Chambers of Labour elect a General Assembly in each Province for five years, by equal, direct and secret ballot. All members of the Chambers of Labour are entitled to vote. The General Assembly elects the President, who, by statute, represents the Chamber of Labour in all matters, and is supported by the Vice-Presidents, the Executive Board and expert committees. The elected political officials are supported in turn by the so-called Chamber offices, which provide technical and administrative services, through which the Chambers of Labour fulfil their statutory functions. The Chamber offices engage experts from all fields of economic, social and educational policy to conduct research, evaluate draft legislation and draw up legislative proposals.
Representation of workers´ interests in collective bargaining In collective bargaining employees are represented by the Trade Union Federation (Österreichischer Gewerkschaftsbund, ÖGB), an umbrella organization for affiliated unions. It is a registered association based on voluntary membership. Trade union density was around 28% in 2010, whereas collective agreements applied to 98% of the workforce, as collective bargaining covers all staff (from signatory organisations), irrespective of employeesʼ union membership.
Negotiations cover different areas, such as pensions, decent working conditions, pay and basic conditions. Negotiations are usually conducted at industry level and take place annually. In total, the ÖGB unions sign more than 700 agreements each year. Plant level negotiations are subordinate to industry level agreements. In recent times, a substantial number of sectoral collective agreements contained clauses delegating certain issues to be negotiated at company level.
There were often separate agreements for manual and non-manual work, corresponding to the division in Austrian unions, but this is becoming less frequent.
Representation in the statutory accident insurances The statutory accident Insurance bodies in Austria are self-executing bodies under public law. Their activities are regulated in the Austrian Social Insurance Act (Allgemeines Sozialversicherungsgesetz – ASVG). Employersʼ and the employeesʼ groups are represented differently in the organs of the statutory accident insurance bodies – the General Assembly, executive board, and regional office boards (Landesstellenausschüsse). This is indicated in the table below:
Table 1: The share of worker representatives in the statutory accident insurance bodies in Austria
|Share of worker representatives||Share of employer representatives|
Source: Allgemeines Sozialversicherungsgesetz – ASVG §426
The respective control assemblies are composed of the same groups, but in reversed proportion.
At establishment level, workersʼ interests are represented by advisory and supervisory bodies or by safety representatives. The advisory and supervisory bodies include the works council (or, staff representatives in the public sector), the supervisory board, and the OSH committee. The OSH committee and safety representatives are specifically concerned with OSH matters.
In Austria, there are statutory works councils for companies with more than five employees. They are elected by all employees to exercise the workplace-level collective consultation and co-determination rights of workers, as conferred by law. Works councils also have a negotiating role in Austria, which is constrained in terms of the issues covered and the relationship with the collective bargaining conducted by trade unions.
The rights and competencies of works councils regarding OSH are defined in § 92a of the Labour Constitution Act (ArbVG), which stipulates that the employer has to consult the works council in due time on OSH matters. Specifically, the employer has to consult with the works council about the consequences of introducing new technologies, working instruments and substances, of changes to working conditions, and of influences of the environment on the safety and health of employees. The works council is also involved in the choice of personal protective equipment and in the risk assessment process, including identifying measures to take, and planning and organizing workplace instructions. (§ 92a, 1) The employer must provide access for the works council to the OSH documentation, to the records for occupational accidents, documents on work organisation findings, and the results of workplace measurements for dangerous substances and noise, and other OSH measurements. The works council must be immediately informed about any occupational exposure limits being exceeded, as well as the causes and measures taken thereof. The employer must inform the works council about regulations, concessions and other information from authorities pertaining to OSH, and they must consult the works council on protective and risk prevention measures in advance. The preliminary consultations must cover these general topics, and they have to consider specific features of the individual workplaces-and activity types. The consultation must also cover topics as first aid, fire safety and evacuation, and information for external workers. (§ 92a, 2)
Unless already discussed in the OSH committee, the employer must consult the works council when contracting or terminating safety experts, occupational physicians or other OSH specialists . The works council can invite the labour inspectorate to the consultations. The works council may delegate his competencies to the safety delegates, but must inform the employer. (§ 92a, 3)
According to data provided by ÖGB, only 15% of the establishments with more than 5 staff have a works council. The coverage is slightly over 50% for the private sector. (p.114) Regarding worker coverage, 58% of blue-collar employees and 54% of white-collar employees were represented by works councils in 2002. 90% of public sector employees have representation within the establishment. There were large variations depending on the size of the establishments: In establishments with 20 employees or less, only 11% of staff were represented by works councils, compared to 91% in establishments with more than 500 employees. Of 2.5m employees in the private sector 1.1m were represented by a works council. According to union estimates, European Works Councils were established in 400 companies. (p. 114) In recent times, there has been a downward trend in works councils and unionisation.
In Austrian companies employees are represented in supervisory boards overseeing the action of the executive board. Worker representative participation on the supervisory board is guaranteed by law for the following types of organisation:
- stock corporations
- companies with limited liability
- cooperative associations with at least 40 employees over a long period
- mutual insurance associations
- saving banks (by the Labour Constitution Act)
- private foundations (by the Private Foundations Act)
- associations (by the Associations Act).
For stock corporations and most limited companies with at least 300 employees, the works council has the right to choose one third of the representatives of the supervisory board. The employee representatives on the board must be works council members and employees of the business.
Members of the works council have the same rights and duties as other supervisory board members, but they are not paid for this work. There is a list of business decisions, defined by Austrian law, for which the management needs the approval of the supervisory board.
They have to examine whether management measures are legal, useful and justifiable, both from an economic and social point of view.
The occupational safety committee
§ 88 of the Austrian OSH act stipulates that in companies with more than 100 employees (including employees working on external sites) an occupational safety committee must be established to act as an advisory and supervisory body. For workplaces where mainly blue collar or comparable activities are performed, the threshold is 250 employees.
Members of the occupational safety committee include the employer or the employer´s representative, the person responsible for OSH implementation in the establishment, the (main) OSH expert, the (main) occupational physician, the safety delegates and a representative of the works councils or staff committee. The employer or the employerʼs representative is head of the occupational safety committee.
To improve OSH, the occupational safety committee has to liaise, facilitate mutual exchange of experience, and coordinate OSH issues within the company. They consult on OSH matters, work-place-related health promotion, and decent work. They examine reports and proposals from the OSH expert(s), the occupational physician(s) and OSH delegates. They are tasked with facilitating co-operation within the company on OSH issues and developing relevant company-specific policy.
Committee meetings must take place whenever expedient, at regular intervals, at least twice per year. It is obligatory to convene a meeting if the OSH circumstances require it, and on request of OSH committee members, if requested by at least one third. The head of the committee may invite other experts to the meeting from the field of OSH and environment protection, as well as labour inspectors. This can also be at request of committee members. The documentation of the meetings in the form of minutes is stipulated by law.
The Central Occupational Safety Committee
§ 88a of the OSH Act, stipulates that for companies with several sites a central works council (ʽZentraler Arbeitsschutzausschussʼ) must be established at the headquarters. The central OSH committee has to supervise sites that have no establishment level OSH committee.
Members of the occupational safety committee include:
- the employer (or person mandated by employer) and maximum two further employerʼs representatives
- a safety delegate from each local OSH committee, unless the total number exceeds 5
- a OSH expert from each local OSH committee, unless the total number exceeds 5
- a occupational physician from each local OSH committee, unless the total number exceeds 5
- If there are over 20 members of the central OSH committee, the number of local OSH committee representatives is limited to 5
Persons representing establishments without local OSH committees may be also invited to the meetings. OSH committee meetings are held regularly (at least once per year) and whenever is expedient.
Trade union delegation
Trade unuin delegation does not exist in Austria.
In Austria, companies with more than 10 workers must appoint health and safety representatives (SR – Sicherheitsvertrauensperson, SVP), also referred to in certain literature sources as ʽhealth and safety officerʼ. The number depends on the size of the company. A safety representative must be appointed in each workplace with over 50 regular staff works. Safety representatives are appointed by the employer, and must be approved by the works council. If there is no works council, the workers must be informed through alternative channels. Objections to the nomination may be raised in the first 4 weeks, and if a third of the staff are opposed, a new person must be nominated. The employer must notify the labour inspectorate about the nomination. Safety representatives are appointed for four years. The last amendment of the Austrian OSH act in January 2013 explicitly states that safety representatives must be employees, and that they are “employee representatives with a special function” regarding OSH.]
The safety representative should represent all relevant departments or units of the enterprise. Male and female safety representatives should be proportionally representative of the numbers of male and female employees in the company. If necessary, shift work should also be taken into consideration.
Table 2: Legally stipulated SRs depending on staff size
|Size of establishment||Number of SR|
Source: Austrian Labour Inspection 
SR training is compulsory, in accordance with §10 section 6 of ASchG and § 4 section 2 of SVP-VO. The 3 day training is provided by AUVA, trade unions and private services.
The safety representative shall support the employers in their duties. The appointment does not affect the legal responsibility of the employer to ensure health and safety in his or her establishment. The safety representatives are not bound by instructions when fulfilling their legal duties (§11 Abs. 2 ASchG). The employer is obliged to consult them on all OSH issues (§11 section 4 ASchG).
The rights and duties of the SR are legally defined in §11 ASchG:
- They shall inform, advise and support the workers and their representatives (e.g. the works council), collaborate with them and jointly represent the interest of the workers against the employer, the administration and other officials;
- Advise the employer on OSH management, check safety measures and safety installations, and inform about deficiencies
- Collaborate with safety experts (Sicherheitsfachkräften) and occupational physicians
- The right to ask employers and officials to take indicated measures, to eliminate deficiencies, and to make their own proposals for improving the working conditions;
- Unless the works council or safety committee is involved, they must be consulted before the commissioning of external services, and consulted on the appointment of safety experts, occupational physicians, and specialists for fire prevention and first aid.
- They must have access to OSH documentation, including measurements on noise and dangerous substances;
- They must be informed and consulted about risk prevention measures in accordance to §11 section 7 ASchG.
The SR have extended rights in establishments where no works council exists, e.g. concerning the appointment of safety representatives (see above). They must also be consulted on the introduction of new technologies, working tools, devices or materials that could affect health and safety, on PPE selection, on risk assessments and related measures and on when training (§11 section 6 ASchG).
A Labour Inspectorate study of 612 companies looked at how health and safety representatives in companies deal with information, consultation and other forms of employee participation. 89% of companies complied with the law regarding the number of appointed safety representatives. In 50% of the companies, SR worked in executive positions. In companies with a works council, 26% of the SR were works council members. Women were underrepresented in this position (12%, compared to 31% of female employees).
The study investigated how SR could make use of their information rights, access relevant health and safety data, as well as involvement in regular meetings and health and safety inspections. Regarding the implementation of information rights, the highest percentage was found in companies with less than 50 employees (90%) compared to medium sized (86%), and large companies (87%). Regarding access to health and safety data, company size does not seem to make a difference. With respect to involvement in regular meetings and participation in health and safety inspections, large companies show a higher level of cooperation (94%) and participation (87%), but the level in small as well as medium-sized enterprises is also very high (86/85% and 81/80%, respectively). The study also investigated the participation of SR in the provision of personal protective equipment, in health and safety projects, and in measures dealing with work accidents and occupational diseases. The results show that big companies have significantly higher participation levels of safety representatives than SMEs do.
Direct participation of workers
§ 12 of the OSH Act stipulates that employers must inform all workers about the occupational risks in their workplaces and about related prevention measures, so that workers are able to say whether adequate preventive measures have been taken, and § 13 stipulates that they must be consulted on specific occasions. In companies without organs of indirect worker participation (mostly micro and small establishments), all workers must be informed and consulted by the employer or its representative. Direct participation can be formal – e.g. yearly appraisal interviews with individual workers, or groups of workers in Works meetings (Betriebsversammlung), or informal – involving the workers and line managers.
Evidence on worker participation
There is only scarce evidence from national company surveys on worker participation in Austria. Worker participation has been evaluated, based on a few indicators in the Social Survey Austria (1986, 1993, 2003), in the European Value Survey (1990, 1999, 2008), and in the Work Climate Index (Arbeitsklimaindex)  of the Upper Austrian Chamber of Employees. Relevant data can also be found in the European Work Condition Surveys (EWCS).
According to the 5th EWCS, 90.3% of the workforce felt that they were very well informed about health and safety risks related to their jobs, and 9.7% felt that they were not, which is slightly higher than the EU27 average. The results for low skilled manual workers were below the European average. The following table summarizes the relevant data from four EWCS surveys:
Table 3: Responses to Q30 of four EWCS – data from Austria compared to EU27
Q30: Regarding the health and safety risks related to performance of your job, how well informed would you say you are?
Source: Eurofound 
The third EWCS also tackled the issue of worker participation. Data from this study suggests that 60% of Austrian workers can contribute their own ideas in their jobs, and about 50% have been consulted before a change process was made. However, only 20% of respondents spoke to an employee representative in 2005, as only about half the employees in the private sector were in enterprises with employee representation.
Worker participation varies according to the company size. The grade level of worker participation is low in enterprises with 50-250 employees. There is variation regarding age and educational level, with older and better qualified employees more likely to be involved.
According to the 5th EWCS, 52% of respondents in Austria reported having an employee representative in the workplace (Q63), which is just the EU27 average.
Figure 1: Worker representation in the EU member states and associated countries (Q63 of the 5th EWCS)
Source: 5th European Working Conditions Survey, fig. 37, p65
For the purposes of international comparison, a three-category classification of board level employee rights was developed. The three categories are:
- wide-ranging system of board-level representation
- limited experience of board-level representation
- no relevant regulations
Among the countries where the European Company Statute applies (EU27 plus EEA), Austria scored among the top 12 as a country with a wide-ranging system of board-level representation. Notably, in the European Participation Index (EPI), Austria was in fourth place, directly behind the Scandinavian countries. The EPI includes the three dimensions board-level participation, workplace participation and collective bargaining participation.
In the last decades, there has been a shift in the economy towards smaller organizations, atypical working arrangements – as more flexitime, part-time and agency work. These trends have also affected employee participation. While representative participation has dropped, other, less formal types of worker participation are becoming more common.
Studies conducted in the IT and health care sector and education showed that past organizational restructurings have lead to uncertainty and mistrust – noticeable barriers to direct worker participation and representation. Meanwhile, staff downsizing and outsourcing has had a more direct effect on participation.
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