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Austrian report Austrian report
by Euro Reporter
2011-05-01 09:35:40
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Austria opens labour market

Austria is set open its labour market to 8 Eastern European members of the European Union (EU) on May 1 in a move that is expected to generate both challenges and opportunities. Austria and Germany are the last two EU members to open their doors to workers from Poland, Hungary, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia and Slovakia, having waited the maximum seven years from when the former Soviet bloc states joined the EU in Y 2004. The move finally establishes a single EU labour market, allowing labour resources to transfer more smoothly among member states. Austria, facing an aging population, is hoping the new market will provide it with a fresh source of labour and will try to attract highly qualified experts, as well as legalize illegal workers in such industries as building and catering.

Along with the labour market liberalization, a series of regulations, such as a minimum income law, immigration law and the provision of work permits for key personnel have been or are being introduced and revised in Austria to deal with the inflow of foreign workers, especially from eastern EU countries. However, neither a massive inflow of workers from the eastern EU countries nor a big strike on the local labour market is expected in Austria after May 1, experts say. The Austrian government and some research institutes predict that, after labour market liberalization, a total of 15,000 to 25,000 foreigners from eastern EU countries will come to Austria, which is not unbearable to the Austrian labour market. Austria has been opening up its labour market gradually.

Austrian companies can already hire foreigners as “key personnel.” Farmers and tourism enterprises also can employ seasonal workers. It has also opened its doors to foreign workers in some industries suffering labour shortages, such as the care industry and the metal processing industry. Currently, a total of 60 such industries can recruit so-called critical foreign workers in Austria. President of Austrian Labour Market Service (AMS) Johannes Kopf said a total of 17,000 foreign workers from the eight EU newcomers have obtained their work permits. Half of them were from Hungary and half were working in the restaurant industry.

Economists say it is therefore unnecessary for Austrians to worry about losing their jobs to a large number of immigrants after the liberalization of the Austrian labour market. Most eastern European workers coming to Austria are expected to seek jobs in its east and south regions as well as the capital Vienna. The main purpose of these foreign workers is to make money, and many are expected to commute to Austria for work during the day and return home at night. Only a small proportion is expected to settle in Austria. All the other old EU member states have opened their labour markets to the eight new EU countries.

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Anti-nuclear energy protest in Vienna


Hundreds of activists and worried citizens gathered to demonstrate against nuclear energy technology in Vienna on Monday. Around 1,000 people joined the event which was organised by environment protection organisation Global 2000 in the city centre of the Austrian capital. Members of the ruling Social Democrats (SPÖ), Greens chief Eva Glawischnig and representatives of non-government organisations (NGO) held speeches against the threat of nuclear disasters in Europe in the wake of the detonations at the nuclear power plant in Fukushima, Japan, last month.

Political leaders in Austria have shown unusual unity in their approach to the issue. There are no nuclear power plants on Austrian soil. A narrow majority spoke out against putting a plant in Zwentendorf, Lower Austria, into operation in a referendum in 1978. Activities at a nuclear research reactor in Seibersdorf near Vienna stopped operating nine years ago. Many Austrians are especially concerned about some of the safety of nuclear power stations situated just a few kilometres from countries’ borders with Austria. The four reactors near Dukovany in the Czech Republic are closest to Austria at 40 kilometres, while the country’s disputed Temelin nuclear power plant is around 65 kilometres from the Czech-Austrian border.

NGOs have also voiced concerns regarding the safety of the nuclear power station in Krsko, Slovenia, as it is situated in an area which is likely to experience earthquakes. Switzerland’s nuclear power generation sites are meanwhile not in the focus of critics in Austria, while the following of activists demonstrating against plants in Slovakia and Hungary is increasing. SPÖ Chancellor Werner Faymann recently promised to launch a Europe-wide initiative against nuclear power plants in cooperation with the German Social Democrats (SPD) of Sigmar Gabriel, while the Greens stressed they always opposed nuclear power technology.

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Right-wingers angered by 'monarchist' Fischer


The Freedom Party (FPÖ) has questioned Federal President Heinz Fischer’s approach to democracy over controversial statements in a recent interview. Fischer – a former Social Democratic (SPÖ) president of the federal parliament and science minister – told the Kurier newspaper some days ago that he would not have to inaugurate FPÖ boss Heinz-Christian Strache as federal chancellor if the right-wing party comes first in the next general election. Fischer made clear: "There is no legal entitlement to the inauguration as chancellor."

Now FPÖ General Secretary Harald Vilimsky hit back at the president over his remarks. Vilimsky claimed Fischer’s perception of his political post was "wrong and out of touch with the real world." Vilimsky – who said Fischer’s statements would confirm that his approach to the role as president was a "monarchist" one – claimed his party would only benefit from the remarks. The FPÖ is currently neck and neck with the Social Democrats (SPÖ) in polls. The right-wing party, which is headed by Strache since 2005 – is seen a few percentage points ahead of the People’s Party (ÖVP) which is going through a serious crisis after alleged corruption scandals of two members of the European Parliament (MEP) and the resignation of Josef Pröll as chairman, vice chancellor and finance minister.

Vilimsky also said today (Tues) that Fischer "would have a problem" if he decides to refuse swearing in Strache in a possible victory in the next federal ballot which is scheduled for 2013. The general secretary of the FPÖ however admitted that Fischer would not breach any regulations of the Austrian constitution by acting that way. Fischer’s statements create memories of the way Thomas Klestil acted when he was due to inaugurate a coalition government of the ÖVP under Wolfgang Schüssel with the FPÖ in 2000. The late president – who passed away seven years ago – swore in the cabinet with a stone-still frown after the ÖVP failed to agree with the SPÖ about a continuation of their cooperation. The coalition agreement between the ÖVP and the FPÖ made headlines all over the world and caused an outcry among left-wing Austrians and Europe’s political elite. Thousands of Austrians took to the streets for months after the government was sworn in.


      
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