Austria: Women in Forced Labour?
Will Forced Labor of Women at Labor Offices Stop?
Vienna – Kawther Salam – March 8 2010, International Women’s Day.
March 8 is a major day of global celebration for the economic, political and social achievements of women, but also it is a day to remind the governments which have enacted more laws that violate women’s rights, that they must review these laws, which for example allow the labor offices to force these women into contracts where the labor of women is sold cheaply, 690 euro for a 45 hour week, far under the level of poverty. These “contracts” and the how these women (and men) are bullied into them correspond to the definition of forced labor set forth in the Forced Labour Convention of 1930, ratified by Austria on 07.06.1960. Quote:
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For the purposes of this Convention the term “forced or compulsory labour” shall mean all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily. Click here to read the law.
In Vienna, unemployed women (and also men) are bullied by the labor office into “contracts” with companies which in turn rent them out to anybody needing a cheap worker. It is not clear if the bad deal of these women forced into virtual slavery has to do with labor laws which have been passed by the governments of the European Union in the wake of the economic crisis that swept global markets and led to the continuing collapse in the domestic and international economy, or if has to do with changing the statistical data about unemployment in Austria in order to make them look more favorable to the government. In any case, if these assumptions are right or wrong, the Austrian laws forbid forced labour. The Austrian penal code deals with slavery, forced labour and similar crimes in sections 104 to 106 in the chapter about “Human Trafficking”.
On the basis of the Austrian laws, but also taking in account the expectations of citizens, it is very important to raise this issue at the International Women’s Day, regardless of whether raising this issue will be satisfactory or unsatisfactory to the concerned authorities. We insist on raising the women issue in several successive reports, until it reaches the ears of the authorities, who will hopefully introduce changes and solutions in the best interest of the people.
Based on what I have been told and personally seen, I must ask if the labor offices have been turned into business projects which effectively sell the labour of women to other companies, and very cheap.
- Is the labour office forcing women back under the reign of feudal lords and slavers?Are the psychological pressure and the overt threats against women brought into such relations, such as the threat to terminate unemployment or welfare benefits, as done by the employees at the labor office and these companies every day against women, in line with Austrian laws and the aspirations of a democratic society?
- Can it be “legal” to force an elderly lady who obviously is incapable of work due to constant shaking of all her body into “work” for one of such companies?
- How can one qualify the threat to terminate benefits because a woman announces a visit to the doctor?
- Are the methods of psychological pressure and threatening women to cut their allowance of subsidy implied by labor workers against women in accordance with the laws of Austria? Which are the provisions of Austrian law on the prevention of transfer of women and citizens into forced labour relations?
In light of the data available to me, the labor office force threatens women with withholding benefits if they dare to protest against being bullied into “labor” relations in certain companies under the pretext helping them to look for work – these “measures” are always represented as “courses” where people are supposed to learn how to find work, as I know from many conversations. The labour office usually rejects to the wishes of women to choose a profession or line of work which they think suits them best, and instead they are “made” saleswomen, nail polishers and hairdressers, to be rented out.
I was greatly disappointed when I visited one such company which runs a program to process women over 50 sent to them by the labour office. One of the women I saw there was a woman over 60, all her body was trembling, she had to cough whenever she moved. I asked an “instructor” what kind of work they would find for this woman. I also asked her for her opinion about selling women in the work market?
This sick woman was a client of the social office, as, according to the new laws, the social office now submits their clients to the work office to “help them look for work”, and the labour and welfare offices work together. In most countries of the world, even the undeveloped countries, there is a separation between the employment (labor) offices and the offices of social affairs, for very obvious reasons, but in Austria, and apparently the EU the situation is different. In the EU the social cases, the sick people and the elderly are under threat to have their benefits withheld if they do not do whatever the labour offices want from them.
During a visit to another company which holds such “courses”, I saw some of the bums usually standing around at Karlsplatz, a meeting place for the bums and drug addicts of the city, clearly not labour office clients. I wonder what kind of work these people will able do, but the presence of people who are obviously unable to work hints at another problem which I have been told in my conversations, but which I can not confirm: corruption and collusion between these companies and government officials to milk the social and employment welfare system.
In this company the “clients” are allocated to do small work according to the whims of the company. At the beginning of the interview, the “instructor” asks the client which work they would like to do? After that, the client is told that they can’t offer them this kind of work, and then pressure and bullying begins, and continues until the “client” chooses whatever work they are offered, usually selling, cleaning, menial office work and other similar occupations. The “instructor” never forgets to remind the attendants that they will file a negative report about them if she or he does not do whatever they are told, “chooses” whatever they are “offered”. People are “asked” to sign a paper, under threat of a negative report or course.
According to what I was told, people are pooled for a month after signing their “agreement” with the company, and they are “trained” during this time to do menial work. After this, the company which runs the program starts renting them out. The only obvious “benefit” to the government is that people who are in such programs are not considered as unemployed, but are still financed by the office of labour. This changes (falsifies ?) the statistics significantly. As of February 2010 there were about 400.000 people officially registered as unemployed in Austria, and about 82.000 of these persons were in such programs. It appears that welfare clients, people who are traditionally classified as unemployable for various reasons, are being included in such programs with the intension of “bettering” the long-term unemployment statistics.
For the people who are included in such programs, their personal situation is such that they are forced for up to 8 months into a pseudo-labour relation where they are pooled with others for 45 hours per week at an income far under poverty level, which is set at about 950 Euros for a working week of 38,5 hours in Austria. I could not understand what economic sense it makes to the government to falsify its unemployment statistics by forcing people into such programs, as the full costs for these women and men are still being born by the government. According to my information, people in such programs are kept for the first 30 days as “course participants”, and are thereafter run as employed in the employment statistics, while still being paid in full from the unemployment or social money of the government. If a woman in such a pool completes the 8 months without having been rented out, she will automatically return to labour office, probably only to be included in the next pooling program.
If a woman included in such a program can be rented out, it probably means that they will be paid at under market prices, what gives no incentive to the “renter” to keep her in his employ beyond the end of the pooling program, what also means that the woman will also find her way to the labour office. Based on the observation that the participants forced into such pooling programs are actually paid by the government, the official statistic of only 400.000 unemployed can be assumed to be far lower than the real number of people unemployed in this country, because this is a category of people who are neither in “courses” nor “unemployed” proper.
For the companies running these programs, the benefit seems obvious. According to what I was told, they get to cut for themselves the difference between 690 Euros (what is paid to the clients) and about 960 Euros, and it is possible that they are paid a sum on top of that. I understand that in Austria such pooling and pseudo-capacitation programs are run by a few big companies, what assures them handsome profits based solely on the number of people unemployed. A very simple calculation would indicate that running such a pooling program with 1.000 participants can leave net profits of about 50.000 Euros per month.
An important factor in the revenue stream of such companies, which are widely called “parasites” (“Schmarotzerfirmen”) by Austrians, seems to be corruption. Even without leveling the accusation of activities which would qualify legally as corrupt, their activity is questionable at best as the deteriorating labour statistics demonstrate. Still, a case which became widely known in the Austrian corporate media is the now-defunct company “Venezia”, which was caught in a scandal which implicated ministerial employees in transferring funds to this company for non-existent invoices.
I was told in personal conversations that in the case of courses of German for foreigners (all foreigners must by law attend German courses in Austria), most legitimate language institutes have no chance of getting contracts from the government, as these contracts are given to a few big companies, and this has to do with what I understood to be a “60:40″ arrangement, meaning a 40% kickback. I understood from the person who told me this that it was general knowledge among institutes offering language courses. I am not in a position to confirm this information.
Some questions are:
- Are women (and men) led into forced labor in companies which work for the labour office?
- Which is the relationship between the labor office and these companies beyond the formal contract?
- Who are the owners of those companies?
- Are they from circles closes to politicians, political parties in power and employees in the labor offices and ministries?
- Have any of these companies achieved positive results towards ending the problem of unemployment?
- Does the labor office use these companies to falsify the statistical data about unemployment, or can this charge be easily refuted with verifiable information?
- How exactly would such a falsification of statistics happen if it was true?
- Is the falsification of unemployment statistics a violation of any law?
- Why has the Austrian corporate media avoided these issues until now, instead opted for running a show which suggests that everything is well?
The answers for these questions will be followed in a future article.
I was told by acquaintances that I should abstain from writing this report as it would bring nothing at best, and that it could even bring me troubles. I think that it is important to report on these issues because women (and men) should not be treated like garbage in a country which presents itself as a civilized, democratic country, because always women are those who suffer the most from deteriorated social conditions, because I believe that not only citizens but also the government should act according to the law, anywhere. I find that this is an issue so big and important that the mass media, which have far more resources than I, should have a deep and abiding interest in bringing some clarity into this issue, which is not only about women rights, but also about human rights and democracy.
by Kawther Salam
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