An ambitious social policy with a special focus on protecting the weakest of society, e.g. in housing policy, has old traditions in Austria. But in the early 1900s, the country was characterized by major social gaps and tensions that contributed to the downfall of the First Republic. During the post-World War II reconstruction, widespread cooperation and consensus between trade unions and employers’ organizations was developed to counteract such social conflicts. This led to the emergence of a comprehensive system of cooperation organizations on economic and social issues, which is referred to as the Sozialpartnerschaft. The most important organization within the framework of the Sozialpartnerschaft is die Paritätische Kommission which regulates wages and prices. This highly institutionalized collaboration has had a major influence on the construction of the public social welfare system and has contributed to an almost unique work peace. High degree of organization and the close relations between the trade union movement and the dominant political parties have been important prerequisites for this system. Visit AbbreviationFinder to see the definitions of AUS and acronym for Austria.
The public welfare system includes: subsidized health care, compulsory old-age pension, accident, sickness and unemployment insurance and various forms of family support and other social support. The social security system is financed through contributions from employers and employees and government contributions and is jointly administered by employers’ and trade unions. There is no actual employer association. Employers have compulsory membership in the Bundeskammer der gewerblichen Wirtschaft (about the “Federal Economics Chamber “). Among the employees, there is only one Central Organization Österreichischer Gewerkschaftsbund (ÖGB), which includes workers and officials in both private and public service.
The retirement age is 60 years for women and 65 years for men. Paid parental leave covers the child’s first two years and can be shared between parents since 1990. Full leave in the second year can be replaced by a longer period of reduced working hours. Public childcare is limited to part-time preschool from the age of three. Child allowances are paid up to the age of 19, to completed education or a maximum of 25 years of age.
In addition to the public welfare system, most employers also have extensive benefits for their employees.
In May 2013, the Philippine Foreign Minister announced that the country was considering withdrawing its peacekeeping forces from the Golan Heights after being attacked by both Syrian rebel forces and Israeli forces. In June, Austria withdrew its troop contingent after it had been in Golan for more than 40 years as a buffer between Syria and the occupying power of Israel.
In the September 2013 parliamentary elections, both parties went back a bit. The Social Democracy SPÖ went 2.4% back to 26.8% and ÖVP went back 2% to 24%. In contrast, the Freedom Party rose 3% to 20.5% and the Greens rose 2% to 12.4%. Two new parties stormed into Parliament: the Euro-skeptic and right-wing populist Team Stronach gained 5.7% and the liberal NEOS gained 5%. Haider’s BZÖ, on the other hand, smoked out of parliament as it declined 7.2% and landed below 3.5% below the threshold.
Despite the decline, SPÖ and ÖVP continued to have a majority in parliament. The ÖVP, however, considered forming government with FPÖ and a smaller party, but in October nevertheless entered into negotiations with SPÖ.
Hundreds of thousands of refugees from Asia – most Syrians – traveled through the country in 2015, and many sought asylum. By the end of November, 85,500 had sought asylum in Austria. Almost a quadruple from the same period in 2014, where 23,861 had applied for asylum. Authorities were unable to secure the many refugees properly, and thousands more had to sleep under the open sky – many of them children. Many refugees were abused by the police without the intervention of the authorities, and at the end of the year, the government tightened the refugee legislation by introducing a temporary asylum scheme and restricting access to family reunification. Both violations of the UN Refugee Convention.
The first round of the April 2016 presidential election was won by Norbert Hofer of the right-wing FPÖ with 35.1% of the vote. The Greens Alexander Van der Bellen came in second with 21.3%. The Social Democrats’ Rudolf Hundstorfer had to settle for 11.3% and a fourth place. The second round of elections in May was narrowly won by Van der Bellen with 50.3% of the vote. However, the FPÖ appealed to the Constitutional Court and complained about the election. On July 1, the court handed down a historic ruling invalidating the election. Acc. the court had had irregularities in 14 out of 117 electoral districts, which had resulted in 77,000 votes being incorrectly counted (though without any real election fraud). The presidential election between the two candidates therefore had to go until October. When President Heinz Fischer resigned in July, the three members of the State Council – from the country’s three largest parties – were temporarily assigned to the presidential office.
SPÖ’s election defeat in April triggered strong criticism in the party against the chancellor and party leader Fayman. He therefore decided in May to step down. New party leader and chancellor became Christian Kern.
In December, presidential elections were again held. This time Van der Bellen won with 53.8% of the vote against FPÖ’s Norbert Hofer who got 46.2%. Van der Bellen was inaugurated as president in January.
The country moved politically sharply to the right during 2016. In April, parliament passed emergency procedures the government could apply to curb the refugee influx. In violation of the Refugee Convention, border police were given the right to decide whether an occupant was entitled to asylum, and therefore also the possibility of arbitrarily rejecting the occupant. Already in January, Parliament had passed a ceiling of 37,500 refugees for 2016. This should be compared with the 81,000 who in 2015 sought asylum in the country. The fascist violence against refugees and immigrants in the country increased rapidly. In June, a refugee center in Altenfelden was set on fire, and the Ministry of the Interior stated that until then there had been as many attacks on refugees and immigrants as in the whole of 2015.