Sozialpolitische Studienreihe

Studienreihe Bd 24 Abstract

The research project is based on five work packages: contextual information was gathered through literature and legal text analysis and research reports as well as in qualitative interviews with works council members. In addition to representative interviews with temporary employees, the empirical work also includes analyses of consensual terminations over time, based on the data of regional health insurance providers (Gebietskrankenkassen), and of contribution controlling for termination fees, as well as in-depth longitudinal analyses for the period between 1997 and 2016 on the basis of L&R Sozialforschung’s labour market and employment careers database.

Regarding the genesis of temporary employment in Austria, the first major milestone to be emphasized is the enactment of the Personnel Leasing Act (Arbeitskräfteüberlassungsgesetz, AÜG) in 1988, which aimed to protect leased workers. Years of negotiation between the social partners finally resulted in the signing of a collective agreement for the personnel leasing industry in 2002, which in particular regulated the issues of remuneration claims and continued remuneration in lease-free periods, and reduced legal uncertainties for both employees and employers. With the amendment of the Personnel Leasing Act 2012, which entered into force on 1 January 2013, EU-wide equal opportunities and anti-discrimination guidelines were implemented in Austrian law. They mainly concern equal treatment and equal payment, more precisely legal equality regarding in-house conditions of employment, working hours, holidays and non-working days, equal access to in-house corporate social benefits, provide for access to company pension schemes in the employing company in cases of work assignments of more than four years, and introduce the consideration of comparative costs with regard to remuneration.

The present empirical studies address the question whether, and to what extent, the situation of leased employees has improved since the previous study (cf. Enzenhofer/ Riesenfelder/ Wetzel 2007), for instance as a result of the amendment. Below, we will provide a short summary of the main results:

Development of personnel leasing
Over the past 20 years, the personnel leasing sector in Austria has grown in several stages, interrupted by three phases of regression or stagnation. Overall, however, there is significant growth: while the analysis of annual averages only showed a little more than 14,000 temporary employees in 1997, the annual average in 2016 is more than 63,400 individuals who work as temporary employees with an income above the low income threshold.
Currently, the share of temporary work in total employment above the low income threshold is 1.8%.  

Characteristics of temporary work – emphasis on low-skilled labour in production

Also in 2016, by far the largest group of temporary employees are those with a blue-collar work contract, at roughly 77% of temporary staff. This tendency is however becoming less marked (the same is true for the labour market in general), as, in 1997, roughly 84% could be categorized in this type of employment.
The so-called entry function of temporary work can be found in 15% of all temporary employees: in those cases, temporary work was the first form of employment. In particular among younger individuals of up to 24 years, temporary employment relatively often serves an entry function (32%).

There is a marked gender-specific preference for different occupational groups – and they are similar to those regarding sector distribution: while in male temporary employees, there is a marked concentration in the production sector (74%), the occupational fields are more varied among women.

Over time, however, what is most evident is a shift of leased personnel from the field of medium-level and skilled work towards more highly qualified fields of activity since 2006 (cf. Enzenhofer/Riesenfelder/Wetzel 2007).

Nearly a third of temporary employees feel they are highly or rather overqualified. There is an accumulation of overqualifications in temporary employees working in the service sector (54%).

A comparative evaluation of professional levels of activity of employees highlights the fact that temporary employees show significantly lower annual levels of activity than standard employees.

The level of education of temporary employees in white-collar employment is considerably higher than that of white-collar employees in standard employment. As already emphasized in the previous study, the level of education of temporary employees with blue-collar status is also significantly higher than that of standard workers.

Equal pay with qualifications
Overall, nearly a third of temporary employees (31%) criticize that they are paid less than permanent staff for the same job.

Nearly one in five of them is unhappy with their own income.

Low continuity of employment, low levels of work integration, and high risk of unemployment

Nearly one in two temporary employees (49%) in 2016 with a blue-collar contract is unable to stay in employment for more than 60 days in the leasing company (not with the employer!). This appears as problematic, and also explains the low level of work integration and high risk of unemployment calculated elsewhere in this study. This prevalence of short-term employments is a criterion of precarity.

Dissociation of work assignments and employment and bridging function of personnel leasing

According to information given by the interviewees in temporary employment, consensual terminations are an important factor – and these consensual terminations aren’t always based on mutual consent.

This strong dominance of consensual terminations in the industry of personnel leasing can also be identified in the analysis of the data of regional health insurance providers and contribution controlling; thus, in 2012 – i.e. before the introduction of the termination fee – 45% of deregistration grounds were still defined as consensual termination. Since 2013, with the introduction of the termination fee, we observe a marked increase of terminations within the probation period (2016: 38%) – a trend we do not find in any of the compared industries. As a general rule, this ground for termination (30/34 – termination within probation period) should be monitored.

The often-cited bridging function of temporary employment proves to be relatively rare: in 2016, the last year of observation, the percentage of transitions from temporary employment into standard employment was only 21%. In addition, the importance of the bridging function decreases with increasing age (only 15% among over-50s).

Work pressures and satisfaction

The characteristics of temporary work assignments (e.g. low levels of professional activity) and the structurally specific characteristics of temporary work (e.g. low continuity etc.) result in high work pressure and low work satisfaction. Thus, for example, roughly 36% of temporary employees think that leased staff are always assigned the worst jobs. 55% of temporary employees are exposed to work situations involving health risks. Nearly three quarters (73%) of temporary employees do not find opportunities for professional development.

The result is that more than half of all temporary employees state they would very much prefer standard employment (54%), another 15% would at least partly prefer it.

Works councils

There are important knowledge deficits regarding works councils: a strikingly high percentage of temporary employees were unable to say whether there is a works council in the leasing company (41%). Regarding the employing company, the temporary employees turned out to be much better informed: the percentage of temporary employees who were unable to say whether there was a works council in the employing business was only about 22%.

Nevertheless, the interviews with the temporary employees highlight the key value of works councils. For instance only 11% of temporary employees in leasing companies with a works council are unhappy with their salary – a percentage that increases to a third (32%) in companies without a works council, which impressively demonstrates the relevance of works councils for the compliance with labour law and collective agreement norms. In addition, in leasing companies with a works council, 35% know the PRO-GE immediate assistance; without an elected works council, this percentage is 21%.

Inclusion of temporary employees into professional further education and support during unemployment

Name recognition of the Social and Further Education Fund (Sozial- und Weiterbildungsfonds, SWF) is rather low among temporary employees: roughly 35% of temporary employees have heard of the SWF. Unemployment support is the best-known support tool among those temporary employees who know the SWF (65%), followed by general education measures (62%) and vocational training (56%).

Participation in professional further education that took place during work hours or was at least partly funded by the leasing company is only found to a minor extent: only 8% had already participated in such further education; here, we find a strong dependency on the levels of professional activity. The usefulness of further education is rated very highly by temporary employees.

Nearly a quarter (24%) of temporary employees know the PRO-GE immediate assistance, mostly from print media or via information by trade unions or works councils in the leasing companies.