The Austrian parliament passed a new law regulating working time in July 2018. The law gives businesses more flexibility by extending the existing maximum working time (including overtime) from 10 to 12 hours per day and from 50 to 60 hours per week. The law entered into force on 1 September 2018.
The new law has been very controversial and was passed by the conservative government despite a series of street protests staged by labor unions and political opponents calling for a referendum on the issue. Despite the new reform, Austria still has one the shortest maximum working days in Europe, as most European Union (EU) member states have a maximum of 13 hours, and the EU Working Time Directive mandates a maximum of 14 hours a day with the average working time capped at 48 hours a week for each 17-week period.
The new law amends the current Working Time Act and the Rest Periods Act. The key changes include:
Maximum working time: The maximum working time, which includes overtime, is increased from 10 to 12 hours per day, while the standard working hours of 8 hours per day remains unchanged. However, employees are allowed to refuse to work more than 10 hours per day without being required to provide any reasons. Employers may not discriminate against or dismiss employees based on their refusal to work the additional two hours. While employees may choose not to work 12 hours a day, they are still required to do overtime up to 10 hours a day when needed and unless they have a good reason that doesn’t allow them to work additional hours.
Employees have the choice between being monetarily compensated (including supplements) for their overtime and taking the equivalent time off.
Flexi-time: The new maximum working time also applies to flexible time agreements if the employee is exceptionally asked to work additional hours during a flexible timeframe. The employee, in that case, should be compensated for the overtime performed.
Work on weekends and public holidays: In some temporary and exceptional circumstances, employees may be asked to work on weekends and public holidays upon the agreement of the works council or a written agreement of the employee for companies without a works council. Employees may refuse without providing any reason and employers may not discriminate against or dismiss them.
Exemptions: The exemption from the Working Time Act and the Rest Periods Act will no longer only apply to “executive employees” but also to “employees with significant autonomous decision-making authority.”
Employers are encouraged to review and amend their flex-time agreements as well as the working-time clauses in their employees’ employment contracts considering the new changes. Employers are required to ensure compliance with the new law by 1 September 2018.