FECL 46 (August 1996):


The overwhelming majority of all non-nationals in Austria are not natives of EU states, but originate mainly from the Southern Slav republics, Turkey and, more recently, Poland and Rumania. As a consequence of the EU Association Agreement with Turkey, Turkish citizens are now privileged against other non-EU nationals in Austria, in as they have free access to the domestic labour market after four years of legal residency. They can reunify their families in Austria after five years. Interior Minister Caspar Einem's recent proposal to extend the application of this rule to all non-EU nationals has drawn rabid protest both from the right and the labour faction within his own Social Democratic Party.

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.


Many "guest workers" from ex-communist 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.


Minister Einem's "thinking aloud" triggered a row

In a recent interview with the Vienna newspaper Der Standard the Social Democratic (SP) 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 (FP) of Jrg Haider, but also from the SP's conservative coalition partner, The Austrian Peoples Party (VP), and, more remarkably, the SP-dominated Chamber of Labour (AK: Arbeiterkammer) and the Austrian Trade Union Federation (GB).


Anti-foreigner stance of the SP's labour faction

The anti-foreigner attitudes of the trade unions have long been a problem in Austria. The AK and the GB were the most active opponents of the EU Association Agreement improving the situation of Turkish citizens. The labour faction within the SP 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 SP 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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