FOR MEMBERS

Should foreign workers in Austria join a union?

Should foreign workers in Austria join a union?
Union members hold a demonstration in Vienna, Austria. Photo: DIETER NAGL / AFP
Foreign workers in Austria are entitled to join a union - but should they?

It’s well-known that employment law in Austria is well-structured with broad protection and rights for employees, including the right to form a trade union and the right to strike.

In fact, 27 per cent of all employees in Austria belong to the ÖGB (the Austrian Trade Union Federation). 

This is slightly more than 23.7 per cent of employees in the UK that are members of a union and significantly higher than 10.8 per cent in the USA.

READ MORE: Everything you need to know about finding a job in Austria

However, despite the healthy number of unionised workers, there is no ingrained strike culture in Austria and participation in a lawful strike could end up breaching an employment contract under Austrian law.

So, what’s the point of joining a union? And what are the benefits?

Here’s what you need to know. 

Joining a union in Austria

Sam Wade, a Native Speaker Teacher from the UK who lives in Vienna, told The Local that international residents should educate themselves about the union system in Austria for their specific industry. 

Sam said: “For people from English-speaking countries like the US and the UK, they probably won’t expect the level of support and protection they can get from their union in Austria or the Arbeiterkammer.”

But where is a good place to start? The first port of call should be the ÖGB

The ÖGB was founded in 1945 and is the national umbrella organisation that represents the interests of workers based on voluntary membership, while also assisting in the development of new employment laws. 

It has 1.2 million members across Austria and the website lists the different trade unions that people can join.

Union members hold a demonstration in Vienna, Austria. Photo: DIETER NAGL / AFP

The main benefits of joining the ÖGB are access to legal advice and legal representation in court.

This is especially useful for workers involved in a dispute with an employer or confused about their legal rights in a specific work-related situation – something that can easily happen as a foreign worker.

Other benefits include discount entry to events, insurance, courses and seminars, plus discounts at some shops.

Alternatively, the Arbeiterkammer (Chamber of Commerce) is focused on social justice, including campaigning for the rights of employees, and is the go-to place for work-related legal advice.

The Arbeiterkammer is funded by members with job seekers, people on parental leave, or those completing military or community service automatically becoming enrolled in the province where they live. 

This means that people already working in Austria as an employee, or job seekers that have been previously employed, are probably already members.

Unions by profession

There are seven different member unions to join in Austria.

GPA (Meine Gewerkschaft) – negotiates collective agreements in 26 sectors of the economy, including banks and insurance, energy, tourism and leisure.

GÖD (Gewerkschaft Öffentlicher Dienst) – the union of public services is the main trade union in the ÖGB and represents the interests of employees in the federal government, federal states and outsourced institutions.

younion – the union of municipal employees, art, media, sport and freelance workers represents people from over 200 professional groups.

GBH (Gewerkschaft Bau-Holz) – the union of construction and woodworkers represents employees in several areas, including civil engineering, paint processing and carpentry.

vida – the union for transport and service workers represents the interests of workers from over 100 countries.

GPF (Gewerkschaft der Post und Fernmeldebediensteten) – the union of postal and telecommunications workers represents more than 44,000 members.

PRO-GE (Produktionsgewerkschaft) – the union of production workers represents members working in manufacturing, agriculture and mining.

Austrian trade unions in the news

Like most countries around the world, action by trade unions makes the news in Austria. 

Recently, the GBH demanded a legal entitlement for construction workers to stop work when the temperature reaches 32.5 degrees to avoid accidents and protect the health of staff.

A “heat-free” law that protects people from working in intense heat was actually introduced in 2019, but the ÖGB claims not all companies enforce the regulation and some construction workers have to continue with their job in high temperatures.

Another story in recent months was the PRO-GE criticising the delay to a change in the law that currently allows some workers to be sacked with a notice period of just one day.  

The union has been calling for the notice period of workers to be brought in line with salaried employees for some time, but the planned change of law on 1 July has now been put back by three months by the Austrian government.


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