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GPA Union: Milestones in our history

The first trade unions for white-collar workers emerged from the 1880s onwards. They were the precursor organisations of what later became the GPA trade union. During the Austro-Fascism period and during National Socialism, these trade unions were banned.

In 1945, the GPA trade union was founded under the name "Trade Union of Salaried Employees in the Private Sector“ (GAP). On 30 April 1945, the executive committee of the GAP was formed with Friedrich Hillegeist as its first chairperson. That was the foundation stone for the later GPA ("Trade Union of Salaried Private Sector Employees"), which used this name from 1962 onwards.

1945-1950: Reconstruction

During the first years after the war, the focus was on rebuilding the trade union and reconstructing the social legislation. Laws such as

  • the Workers' Leave Act (regulates the right of workers to take leave)
  • the Collective Agreements Act (this is the legal framework for all collective agreements)
  • or the Works Councils Act (ensures that works councils can be established in companies and that their specific rights must be respected).

were improved and adopted. Furthermore, in 1948, 5000 shoemakers went on strike for 62 days to obtain the 44-hour week - and prevailed.  

The 1950s: More social security for all workers

The year 1950 saw strikes and demonstrations due to the difficult social situation after the war. Collective agreements improved and the pressure on political leaders increased. Thus, in the 1950s, the General Social Security Act (regulating, for example, compulsory health, accident and pension insurance and the Maternity Protection Act) was passed. Moreover, the 45-hour week for all came into force.

Finally, in 1957, the social partnership officially began its work. Social partnership is the cooperation of the major economic interest groups for employees and employers in Austria with each other and with the government. A particularly important element in social partnership is the negotiation and conclusion of collective agreements.

The 1960s: Enforcement of the 40-hour week

After a long struggle by the trade union, women were allowed to take paid maternity leave from 1961, i.e. to stay at home for a certain period of time before and after the birth of their child and continue to receive money.

The year 1962 was the year with the highest number of strike hours in the Second Republic. At that time, the metalworkers successfully went on strike against women's wages, i.e. against the lower pay for women than for men when both work in comparable positions. From 1962 onwards, women's wages were gradually abolished in collective agreements - resulting in more fairness for women in the labour market.

Furthermore, in the 1960s the minimum leave was extended to 3 weeks.

Thanks to the trade union, a referendum was held in 1969 in which the people of Austria voted for the gradual introduction of the 40-hour week by 1975.

The 1970s: The 5th week of leave is coming

In the 1970s, many important laws were passed such as

  • The Equal Treatment Act (a law initially aimed at eliminating wage inequalities between women and men).
  • Youth Consultative Councils Act (ensures that youth consultative councils can intervene in all matters concerning apprentices and young workers and make proposals).
  • The Labour Constitution Act (this law extended the rights of workers and their representatives in the company, and the cooperation between works councils and trade unions was anchored in law accordingly).
  • The Law on Continued Payment in Case of Illness while on Leave (ensures that under certain circumstances you do not lose any days of leave if you fall ill while on leave)
  • The Night Shift Heavy Labour Act (secures special rights for workers who work night shifts and/or heavy labour).

It was decided that the 5th week of leave would be introduced gradually with the Holiday Act and the Care Leave Act. Rudolf Häuser, then GPA chair, was also Minister of Social Affairs (1970 - 1976) in the era of Federal Chancellor Bruno Kreisky (Social Democratic Party).

The 1980s: Another reduction in working time

In the 1980s, the first collective agreements with a 38.5 hour week were concluded. In addition

  • the Work-Rest Act (regulates rest periods - for example, weekend rest - that workers are entitled to an uninterrupted rest period of 36 hours in each calendar week, including Sunday) and
  • the Labour Leasing Act (regulates the conditions when an employer (transferor) makes his workers available to another employer (employer) for the performance of work. Serves on the one hand to protect the hired-out workers and on the other hand to protect the workers of the employing enterprise).

were adopted.

The "Solidarity Wage Increase" was also launched in the 1980s. This means that low wage groups ( in which there are mainly women) get raised more than the high wage groups. At that time, the GPA, under its leader Alfred Dallinger, who was also Minister of Social Affairs between 1980 and 1989, was also in the lead in propagating the issue of working time reduction. Another controversial idea was that of a value-added charge to safeguard the social security system. Alfred Dallinger died in a plane crash in 1989.

The 1990s: Minimum wage and equal treatment

During the 1990s, free transport for apprentices was introduced, which allows apprentices to use public transport free of charge to get to their place of apprenticeship. In addition, the Equal Treatment Pact stipulated, among other things, that child-raising periods are to be credited to the retirement pension. During the 1990s, the "Fairness Campaign" was also launched - the aim was to achieve equality under the law between blue- and white-collar workers. This process finally lasted until 2021. In 2000, the minimum wage of 10,000 Schilling was achieved in the collective agreement. In 1989, Lore Hostasch succeeded as chairperson of the GPA, the first woman to head a trade union in Austria. Hostasch also headed the Chamber of Labour from 1994 to 1998 and was Minister of Social Affairs from 1998 to 2000.

The 2000s: The fight against social cutbacks

From the inauguration of the coalition government of the Austrian conservatives and the right-wing liberal party in 2000, the trade union fought in the following years above all to ensure that social achievements were not dismantled. Hans Sallmutter, then GPA chair, was also president of the Central Association of Austrian Social Insurance Authorities. In this function he was fiercely opposed by the government because he advocated the principle of self-administration (self-administration means that in a certain area of responsibility - in this case in the area of social insurance - the state renounces management by state administrative authorities. It hands over these administrative tasks by law to so-called self-governing bodies. Self-governing bodies are the bodies of the social insurance institutions that make essential decisions, for example, on what costs the social insurance will cover).

Hans Sallmutter had to resign in 2002. A large general strike took place in 2003, in which the GPA trade union also participated. This managed to prevent the worst deteriorations in the pension reform. At the same time, it was decided that part-time workers would receive a supplement for overtime, i.e. for work that goes beyond the agreed time. Furthermore, social security for independent contractors was achieved. The world's first collective agreement for the hiring out of workers (regulates the conditions when an employer (hiring out party) makes its workers available to another employer (employing party) for the performance of work) was concluded. This serves to protect the temporary workers on the one hand and the workers of the employing company on the other) and by the end of 2009 a minimum wage of 1000€ had been achieved in all collective agreements.

In 2005 Wolfgang Katzian took over as chair of the GPA trade union. The union merged with the Union for Printing, Journalism and Paper to form GPA-djp in 2007.

The 2010s: Papamonat (parental leave for fathers) becomes a right

The Wage and Social Dumping Act is pushed through under pressure from the trade union. This law is intended to ensure that companies that do not comply with social legislation and underpay their workers in order to gain a competitive advantage are punished. Furthermore, educational leave becomes a permanent right. What this means is that employees are released from work for the duration of a further education programme. During this time, employees do not receive a salary. Provided they meet all the requirements, however, they will receive an allowance from AMS, the Austrian Public Employment Service (equivalent to the amount of unemployment benefits).

Wolfgang Katzian, Chair of the GPA, became President of the Austrian Trade Union Federation (ÖGB) in 2018.

A legal entitlement to the „Papamonat" was established in 2019. Every father now has the right to stay at home with his newborn for one month. The crediting of parental leave periods against all employment-related entitlements was also achieved as a result of pressure from the union. Barbara Teiber took over as chairperson of GPA-djp in 2018. In 2020, GPA-djp was renamed GPA Union.

The 2020s: Parachute in times of the pandemic

As a social partner, the trade union had to protect the rights of employees under particularly great pressure due to the Corona pandemic. One example is the agreement between the social partners on short-time work. Short-time work means that people work less than their original normal working hours for a certain period of time due to economic difficulties of the company. Nevertheless, their income remains approximately the same. In addition, the model of special care time (can apply to parents if they have to care for their child, for whom there is a duty of care, at home because he or she is not allowed to go to school or kindergarten due to the applicable Corona ordinance (e.g. because of an infection with the Corona virus), with the special exemption for pregnant women, (during the Corona pandemic, expectant mothers could start maternity leave earlier if they worked in jobs where they were in close contact with customers) with the risk exemption (employees who are particularly at risk due to certain illnesses if they fall ill with Corona, were entitled to a safe workplace or home office or time off from work during the Corona pandemic) and also the Home Office Act ( stipulating the rights and obligations of workers and employers when workers work from home) helped to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on workers.

Since the year 2022, high inflation as a result of the Ukraine war and the energy crisis have posed major challenges for the trade unions. Especially in collective bargaining negotiations, however, the union was able to achieve important successes through very good wage agreements above the rate of inflation.

The present:

Inflation crisis, demographic change and an ever-widening gap between rich and poor

We are faced with major social upheavals: Ecological change with all the threats to our livelihood, the inflation crisis, demographic change in our society and the increasing imbalance in the distribution of wealth.

The goal of GPA Union is always to ensure that everyone can lead a good life. Thus, we work to ensure that there are constant improvements for workers, both at the workplace and in their free time - for the big and the small problems. That is what we do directly in the companies together with the works council (a body that is elected by the employees of a company and which represents the interests of this workforce against the management), in negotiations for entire sectors and by presenting our demands to politicians.

To be counted among the most important of these demands is the one for a millionaire's tax (persons who own more than 1 million euros in assets should pay taxes on these assets of between 0.5 and 1.5%, depending on the amount of the assets) and the one for a reduction of working hours. The state could use the tax revenues from a millionaire's tax to finance important projects for the future such as long-term care, nationwide childcare and the ecological restructuring of our economy.

The last time working hours were cut in Austria was more than 45 years ago. That is simply no longer in keeping with the times. Decreasing working hours is necessary to reduce the burden of work on workers and to solve some of the problems associated with the work of the future.

Your GPA Union is campaigning for this - and much more.