Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel’s proposal to open the Austrian labour market for nurses from the country’s eastern neighbouring states has brought him into conflict with the Social Democrats and sections of his own party.
As Austria is nearing general elections for the National Council, to be held on 1 October 2006, labour mobility has become a hot issue in the campaign. The issue was raised by Economy Minister Martin Bartenstein who, backed by Schüssel, proposed to open the labour market for nurses from the eight Central- and Eastern-European countries (EU-8) that joined the EU in 2004. Both politicians are from the conservative Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP).
The Greens declared their readiness to support Schüssel’s and Bartenstein’s initiative, arguing that it is absurd to talk about a flooding of the labour market when the workers are already there.
The social democratic SPÖ is opposed, however, as are the two small right-wing parties resulting from the fragmentation of Jörg Haider’s FPÖ. While the right-wing extremists are driven by pure xenophobia, however, the Social Democrats point to the rule that anybody working officially in Austria for one year gains full access to the labour market – which would make all the restrictions obsolete.
The Social Democrats also argue with ‘wage dumping’ – going as far as to say that legalisation would on the mid-term not solve problems for labour immigrants from the EU-8 at all – it would result in their market price increasing to a level higher than most Austrian families could afford, so they would ultimately be replaced by nurses from Ukraine.