Upper Austrian Chamber of Labour (AK OÖ)
Austria's COVID-19 Measures Act entered into force on 16 March, effectively restricting people from leaving their homes except in certain circumstances. The Upper Austrian Chamber of Labour (AK OÖ) responded promptly by shifting its employees to home working and adapting its IT systems for remote operation. Our return to the office has been a gradual process, accompanied by adaptations to meeting rooms, food delivery directly to the workplace, provision of disinfectants, face masks, constantly updated information, etc.
The COVID-19 crisis brought with it new challenges for AK OÖ compared to its normal work. While our offices were closed for 13 weeks, our advisory services continued without interruption, by phone and online, allowing us to respond to the big increase in our members' need for advice on issues relating for example to labour law (incapacity for work, pay during absence, etc.) or short-time work. Employee representatives were also given specific information on short-time work, labour law and occupational health and safety (protection against COVID-19 infection in the workplace). We also saw a huge increase in demand for advice on consumer protection issues such as travel, cancelled events and courses, suspension of rent payments and deferral of loan repayments. In many cases it was possible to enforce recovery claims. In addition, AK OÖ funded laptops for apprentices to ensure they had the technology they needed for distance learning. These computers will be kept in schools following the crisis, thus making a long-term contribution to computer-assisted learning for children from vulnerable backgrounds. A special COVID-19 support scheme was also set up under the Chamber of Labour's "Arbeit – Menschen – Digital" [Work – People – Digital] fund, specifically to support projects to set up home offices and facilitate communication for works councils despite the crisis measures. With a view to mitigating the social impact, we have also been lobbying for specific policy measures such as the establishment of a publicly funded "Coronavirus Employment Foundation", an increase in the net replacement rate from unemployment benefit, and a youth rescue package including doubling the number of inter-company training workshops and implementing measures within the school system.