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TITLE: AUSTRIA HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES, 1993 DATE: JANUARY 31, 1994 AUTHOR: U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE AUSTRIA Austria is a constitutional parliamentary democracy. A coalition government of the Social Democratic Party and People's Party, originally formed after the 1986 national election, continued in office after the October 1990 election. The Freedom Party, the Green Party, and the Liberal Forum, which split from the Freedom Party in February 1993, form the opposition. The police and security organs are subordinated to the executive and judicial authorities. However, there continued to be reports of police abuse. Austria affords its citizens a high standard of living. Human rights are highly respected in Austria; individual rights and political freedoms are provided for in the Constitution and generally protected. RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from: a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing There were no reports of politically motivated or extrajudicial killings. b. Disappearance There were no political abductions. c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment Torture is banned by the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, which is incorporated into the Constitution. As a result of continued allegations of police brutality over the past few years, regulations which stipulate more clearly the limits of police conduct during investigations took effect in May. According to the Interior Ministry and human rights groups, complaints of police brutality decreased significantly. d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile The Constitution prohibits arbitrary detention or exile. In criminal cases the law provides for investigative or pretrial detention for up to 48 hours, except in cases of charges of "aggressive behavior", by which time an investigative judge must decide on the legality of continuing the detention. Provided the prosecutor requests detention and the investigative judge agrees, the accused may be held for a maximum of 2 years pending completion of an investigation. Grounds for investigative detention are specified in the law, as are conditions for release on bail. A reform of Austrian law regarding investigative and pretrial detention has been adopted and is scheduled to go into effect in January 1994. The new law requires mandatory reevaluation of a detention by the investigative judge at 2 weeks, 1 month, and every 2 months after the arrest. e. Denial of Fair Public Trial The judiciary is independent of the executive and legislative branches of government. Judges are appointed for life and may not, in principle, be removed from office. Jury trials are prescribed for major offenses, and those convicted have the right of appeal. Written charges must be presented to the accused who has the right to be represented by a lawyer. The accused are presumed innocent, and trials are public. f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence The law provides for the protection of personal data collected, processed, or transmitted by government agencies, public institutions, and private entities. Constitutional provisions also protect the secrecy of the mail and telephone. Following the restructuring of the state police after a 1990 scandal involving the monitoring of private citizens without sufficient grounds, a 1991 federal police law introduced parliamentary control over the state police and the military secret service on a permanent basis. Parliamentary subcommittees to oversee these organs were formally established in September 1993. Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including: a. Freedom of Speech and Press These freedoms are provided by the Constitution and generally respected in practice, although stringent slander laws discourage reports of police brutality. Austria has a free, independent, and multifaceted press, ranging from conservative to Communist. Publications may be removed from circulation if they violate legal provisions concerning morality or public security. As a matter of practice, such cases are extremely rare. Opposition viewpoints are given wide attention in Austrian publications. A 1992 law lowered the minimum sentences for public denial, belittlement, approval, or justification of Nazi crimes. The lowering of minimum sentences has had the desired effect of increasing the conviction rate of those accused of neo-Nazi activities. Austrian radio and television have been government monopolies but present diverse points of view. There have been no complaints of either subtle or direct censorship. A law passed in July allows for establishment of private radio and television stations. Cable television is widely available, allowing Austrians access to international broadcasts. They also listen to radio broadcasts from other European countries. Freedom of academic expression is respected. b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association The Constitution provides for freedom of assembly and association. Public demonstrations require a permit from the police authorities, who are limited to considering only the public safety aspect of the proposed demonstration, not its political purpose. Permits are routinely issued. The Constitutional Law of 1945, as amended in 1947, prohibits Nazi organizations and activities. The Austrian State Treaty of 1955 also made an exception to freedom of association in the case of Nazi organizations and activities. The Law on the Formation of Associations stipulates that permission to form an association may be denied if it is apparent that the organization will pursue the illegal activities of a prohibited organization. c. Freedom of Religion This right is provided by the Constitution, although the Treaty of St. Germain, which is also incorporated into the Constitution, restricts this freedom to the practice of religions that are compatible with public safety and morality. There are no known instances of a religion being banned under the Treaty. In order to qualify as a recognized religious organization under Austrian law, religious groups register with the Government. Although 78 percent of the population is Roman Catholic, most of the world's major religions are represented and practice their faiths freely. d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation The Government does not restrict freedom of movement within the country or the right to change residence or workplace. Austrian residents are free to travel abroad and to emigrate. Citizens who leave the country have the right to return. Over the past few years the Government tightened its asylum regulations. Asylum seekers must apply for asylum in the first country in which they are able to make application (all surrounding countries are considered by Austria to be "safe" for asylum seekers) and are not allowed to stay in Austria while appealing their rejected asylum requests. As a result, asylum applications dropped from 11,875 in the first half of 1992 to 2,490 in the first half of 1993. Authorities approved 9.1 percent of asylum applications in the first half of 1993. Opposition groups, including political parties and human rights organizations, maintain that Austria's strict new asylum laws violate the right to apply for asylum and the right of asylum seekers to reside in Austria while their rejected asylum requests are appealed. A new residence law went into effect in July. The law is broad in scope and does not distinguish between immigrants and nonimmigrants; several of its provisions generated vociferous public debate. An implementing regulation which required that each foreign resident have a minimum of 10 square meters of living space to be eligible for a residence permit (including renewal of a previous permit) was withdrawn. A provision that a foreign resident could be deported if the authorities did not process a properly filed application for a residence permit within 6 weeks was retained and justified as intended to force the bureaucracy to process applications expeditiously. Human rights organizations and the Catholic Caritas organization strongly criticized the residence law. The debate about whether to amend the controversial residence law continued at year's end. Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government Austria is governed through a democratic parliamentary system. The Constitution stipulates that national elections must be held at least every 4 years. Elections are free and regularly draw high levels of participation. Ballots are secret. There is universal suffrage for those over 19 years of age. The 1990 election continued a coalition government composed of the two largest political parties, the Social Democratic Party, which won 80 seats in Parliament, and the People's Party, which won 60 seats. Three other parties are represented in Parliament--the Freedom Party, the Greens, and the newly formed Liberal Forum. Although there are no legal impediments, women are significantly underrepresented in government and politics. According to a Parliamentary spokesperson, 41 of 183 parliamentarians are women (22.4 percent). Although the political culture in Austria has been and is dominated by men, women are making inroads. The Social Democrats, at their summer congress, established a 40 percent quota for female parliamentarians, to be fully implemented in 10 years. Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights Allegations of improper activities on the part of the authorities are discussed and investigated by the press, public groups, and private individuals without government hindrance. Both international and local human rights groups operate freely. Austria recognizes the competence of the European Human Rights Commission in Strasbourg to implement the European Convention on Human Rights. Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status Austria has a comprehensive public welfare system, the benefits of which are available to all citizens on a nondiscriminatory basis. In employment and in other areas, comprehensive legal protection is provided against discrimination because of race, sex, religion, language, disability, or social status. In December, a letter bomb campaign targeted public persons known for their sympathy and support of immigrants and refugees in Austria. Among those seriously injured was the Mayor of Vienna. The ongoing police investigation has led to the arrest of six men associated with rightwing, neo-Nazi organizations. Women Most legal restrictions on women's rights have been abolished. Women are still prohibited by law from night work in most occupations, however, and this ban is sometimes used as a pretext for not hiring women. Nurses, taxi drivers, and a few other occupations are exempted. The Women's Ministry defends the night-work ban on the basis that women are also the primary care providers for children during the day. Women are entering the work force in increasing numbers and have made substantial progress toward economic equality. Nevertheless, in practice, they are generally underrepresented in the professions and business. Women are not allowed in the Austrian military. There is no conscription of women as there is for men. Recent suggestions by various politicians that women do mandatory civilian service have been rejected by the Women's Ministry and women's organizations. Although labor laws providing for equal treatment extend to women in the civil service, women are nonetheless underrepresented in government service also. To remedy past practice, women of equivalent qualifications are to be placed in jobs ahead of men in civil service areas in which less than 40 percent of the employees are women. The 40-percent hiring quota was part of the Women's Omnibus Law which went into effect in January 1993. According to the Women's Ministry, although the quota was contained in the law, there are no penalties for not meeting it. Women may be awarded compensation of up to 4 months' salary if discriminated against in promotions because of their gender. Compensation may also be awarded to victims of sexual harassment. Laws are in place to combat the problem of violence against women, but enforcement is often difficult, according to a Women's Ministry spokesperson. When police arrive on the scene of a domestic dispute where a woman has been physically abused, they can do nothing to the man if he is peaceful or the woman does not file a complaint. A court order forcing a man to stay away from his wife or girlfriend generally takes 3 to 6 weeks to obtain. Children The Government is seriously committed to protecting children's rights and welfare. The law provides for 2 years of paid maternity leave for mother or father. Parents receive a government payment of about $1,200 for the birth of each child and between $100 and $140 per month for the maintenance of each child. Child care is often provided or subsidized by federal, state, and local governments. Because of a severe shortage of government child care centers, private centers are increasingly in demand. No pattern of societal abuse of children exists. National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities The rights of members of all minorities are fully respected. In addition, the Government recognizes Croat, Slovene, Hungarian, Czech, and Slovak minority groups, and is discussing recognition of the Roma and Sinti (Gypsy) minorities. The Ethnic Minorities Law allows a recognized minority to establish an ethnic group council to advise the Government on issues regarding that minority. It also provides for the establishment of minority language schools in some communities. All of the five recognized minorities have established minority councils. People with Disabilities Disabled individuals are protected by law from discrimination in housing, education, and employment. Austrian law requires businesses and state and federal government offices to employ 1 disabled person for every 25 to 45 employees, depending on the type of work, or to pay a fee to the Government. The Government uses collected fees to pay for programs for the disabled--such as training programs and grants to firms to help pay the wages of disabled workers. Some businesses and offices opt to pay the fee rather than employ people with disabilities. No federal law mandating access for the disabled has been enacted. Some public buildings are virtually inaccessible for those unable to climb stairs. Section 6 Worker Rights a. The Right of Association Workers have the right to form and join unions without prior authorization. This right is protected under general constitutional guarantees of freedom of association. In practice, Austrian trade unions have an important and independent voice in the political, social, and economic life of the country. In 1993, 53 percent of the work force was organized in 14 national unions, all of which are members of the Austrian Trade Union Federation (ATUF). This organization has a strong, centralized leadership structure. Individual unions and the Federation are independent of government or political party control, although formal factions within these organizations are closely allied with political parties. Although the right to strike is not explicitly provided by the Constitution or by national legislation, it is universally recognized. Strikes have been comparatively few and usually of short duration. A major reason for Austria's record of labor peace is the system of "social partnership", an unofficial forum for cooperation among labor, management, and government. At the center of the system is the Joint Parity Commission for Wages and Prices, which has an important voice on major economic questions. The ATUF, its political wings, and its member unions have affiliations with all three world labor federations. b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively Unions have the right to organize and bargain collectively. The labor movement enjoys widespread acceptance, and almost all large companies, private and state-owned, are organized. Worker councils operate at the enterprise level, and workers are entitled by law to elect one-third of the members of the supervisory boards of major companies. Collective agreements covering wages, benefits, and working conditions are negotiated by the ATUF with the National Chamber of Commerce and its associations, which represent the employers. Wage-price policy guidelines are set by the Joint Parity Commission. A 1973 law obliges employers in enterprises with more than five employees to prove that job dismissals are not motivated by antiunion discrimination. Employers found guilty of antiunion discrimination are required to reinstate workers fired for union activities. Austrian labor and business representatives remained in disagreement over how to comply with the obligation under ILO Convention 98 to provide legal protection against arbitrary dismissals to employees in firms with five employees or less. Workers are further protected by mandatory membership in the Austrian Chambers of Labor, to which all employees except civil servants belong. These Chambers carry out studies and prepare legislative proposals. They are obliged to provide free legal assistance, including a lawyer, to any employee requesting it. Typically, legal disputes between employer and employees regarding job-related matters are handled by a special arbitration court for social affairs. The ATUF is exclusively responsible for collective bargaining. The leaderships of the Chambers and the ATUF are elected democratically. Austria has no export processing zones. c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor Forced labor is prohibited by law and is not practiced. d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children The minimum legal working age is 15. The law is effectively enforced by the Labor Inspectorate of the Ministry of Social Affairs. e. Acceptable Conditions of Work There is no legislated national minimum wage. Instead, nationwide collective bargaining agreements set minimum wage rates by job classification for each industry. A worker whose annual income falls below a poverty line (approximately $850 per family member per month) is eligible for social service benefits. The average Austrian has a high standard of living, and even workers at the low end of the wage scale have a relatively adequate minimum standard. Although the legal workweek has been established at 40 hours since 1975, more than 50 percent of the labor force enjoys collective bargaining agreements setting the standard workweek at 38 or 38.5 hours. Austria has enacted extensive legislation setting occupational health and safety standards, under which the Labor Inspectorate of the Ministry of Social Affairs conducts inspections and ensures the effective protection of workers. Inspectors have the authority to "tag" an observed safety or health risk without a court order, an action that effectively shuts down the affected machinery or process until it conforms with mandatory safety standards. Workers may file complaints anonymously with the Labor Inspectorate, which may bring suit against the employer on behalf of the employee. In practice, this option is rarely exercised; workers normally rely instead on the Chambers of Labor, which file suits on their behalf. (###)
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