The Chamber of Labour
The Chamber of Labour represents the interests of 3,4 million employees and consumers in Austria.
a) Fundamental research for the benefit of workers and consumers
The Chambers of Labour employ a staff of highly qualified experts who act as a think-tank for employees' interests, conducting studies on a wide range of relevant issues. The Chambers of Labour thus always have an up-to-date scientific basis for effective policy-making on behalf of employees.They closely co-operate with the other Austrian Social Partners in conducting and publishing joint studies on social and economic issues. The results of these studies feature prominently in Austria's political discourse and frequently serve as policy guidelines.
b) Participation in and control of legislation
It is through the Chambers of Labour that Austrian employees and consumers participate in the legislative process. The Chambers evaluate draft legislation from the point of view of employees' interests, make proposals for amendments and are subsequently involved in the implementation of these laws. Often impulses for legislative initiatives emanate from the Chambers of Labour and their experts, whose research continually underlines the need for legislative action.
The Chambers of Labour offer a wide range of services to their members. The Chambers' experts provide information and advice on different issues such as labour law, social insurance, tax law, women's and family policy, worker protection, the protection of apprentices and young workers, unemployment insurance, and consumer protection.
In labour-law disputes between employees and employers the Chambers provide legal assistance ranging from oral or written interventions with employers to free representation of employees before the Labour and Social Tribunals. Education and culture are another mainstay of the Chambers' service activities. They provide considerable sums of money for education, vocational training and further education as well as the training of officials in the labour movement, and organise exhibitions, film screenings, theatre performances and concerts.
d) International presentation
At the European level, the Chamber of Labour has delegated representatives to the Economic Social Committee, the ECSC Consultative Committee and various committees and advisory.
In accordance with Austria's federal structure, there is a separate Chamber of Labour in each of the nine Federal Provinces. The Vienna Chamber of Labour also functions 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 is in charge of all tasks of relevance to all of Austria, or to several Provinces. Both the regional Chambers and the Federal Chamber of Labour are self-governing public corporations.
All employees, apprentices, persons on maternity (paternity) leave, as well as the unemployed are subject to compulsory membership; civil servants and agricultural workers are exempt. The Chambers also represent the interests of retired employees.
In each Province a General Assembly, a kind of employees' parliament, is elected by equal, direct and secret ballot for a period of five years. All Chamber members are entitled to vote. The most important political groups are the Social Democratic Unionists (FSG), the conservative Austrian Workers' Federation (ÖAAB), and the Freedomite Employees.
Each regional Chamber is headed by a President, who is elected by the General Assembly. The President by statute represents the Chamber in all matters. He/she is supported by the Vice-Presidents, the Executive Board and experts.
The elected political officials are supported by the so-called Chamber offices, whose staff of roughly 2,400 persons provides the services, both technical and administrative, which the Chambers require to fulfil their statutory functions. Of these, one fourth work for the Vienna Chamber, whose office also serves the Federal Chamber of Labour.
Staff members include experts from all fields of economic, social and educational policy, who do research, evaluate draft legislation and draw up legislative proposals.
The financial basis: of this entire structure is the so-called "Chamber of Labour levy" amounting to 0.5% of all members' gross wages or salaries up to a certain maximum basis of assessment.
The Federal Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Consumer Protection (BMASK) provides a financial support to the AK office in Brussels.