FECL 46 (August 1996):
Six per cent of all foreign workers in Austria are EU nationals (4 per cent German). 19 per cent are citizens of Turkey. 75 per cent are non privileged third country nationals, of which 53 per cent are citizens of the Southern Slav republics (Source: G. Biffl, SOPEMI Report on Labour Migration, Vienna, 1995). The overwhelming majority of all undocumented workers most certainly come from non EU-states.
Austria has the highest percentage of "guest workers" from ex-communist states of all member states of the EU. It also has one of the lowest percentages of EU foreigners. This combination has led to a relatively low level of immigrant organisation and self-help. The former communist trade unions (of Yugoslavia, Poland, etc.) banned organisational work abroad. The classical EU (EC, ECC) immigrant activist nationals (Italy, Spain, Greece) were and are of no significance in Austria. Tripartite Austrian "social partnership" also played a role in preventing trade union radicalism among the immigrants. Finally, the shop steward ban for non nationals (as of 1992 non-EFTA/EC nationals - 94 per cent of total) has prevented the immigrants from working within the trade union structures.
In a recent interview with the Vienna newspaper Der Standard the Social Democratic (SPÖ) Minister of the Interior, Caspar Einem, has proposed that all third country nationals be dealt with according to the same regulations now valid for Turkish citizens. This suggestion has met with radical and rabid opposition not only from the ultra-nationalist Freedom Party (FPÖ) of Jörg Haider, but also from the SPÖ's conservative coalition partner, The Austrian Peoples Party (ÖVP), and, more remarkably, the SPÖ-dominated Chamber of Labour (AK: Arbeiterkammer) and the Austrian Trade Union Federation (ÖGB).
The anti-foreigner attitudes of the trade unions have long been a problem in Austria. The AK and the ÖGB were the most active opponents of the EU Association Agreement improving the situation of Turkish citizens. The labour faction within the SPÖ is responsible for the upholding of the shop steward ban on all third country nationals, including Turkish citizens. Interior Minister Einem, who started his carreer as a leftist social worker, is therefore taking a risk by proposing a "humanist" solution to the discrimination issue. He is one of the few SPÖ ministers working actively against xenophobia and racism.
As of 1 July 1988, Austria will have the presidency of the EU. Austria is also trying to have the EU Observation Centre against Racism and Xenophobia located in Vienna. The Austrian immigrant organisations plan to use the EU spotlight to pressurise the Federal Government to drop the shop steward ban for non-EU nationals.
Eugene Sensenig (Salzburg)
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