Austria is considered to be one of the most thriving markets in the European Union. Such factors as central geographical location that enables to build strong relations with South Eastern and Eastern Europe, political stability, high quality of life, excellent infrastructure, high level of legal certainty and personal security contribute to the economic success of the country.
Austria is one of the safest countries in the world with a low crime rate.
Another factor which puts Austria on top position among other European countries is its innovative businesses and highly-qualified people’s skills. Therefore, protection of human rights and promotion of social responsibility is of high priority to both Austrian government and top management at enterprises.
On the 20th May 2011 Austria was elected as member of the Human Rights Council by the General Assembly of the UN. As a result, Austria was a member in the highest forum for human rights within the UN from the 19th of June 2011 to the 31st December 2014.
Within the framework of the UN, Austria was and remains committed to the promotion and protection of human rights on a global scale.
Austria’s engagement on human rights at the international level is based on a firm commitment to human rights protection at the national level.
Concept of social responsibility and protection of human rights is supported by a variety of national (Austrian Strategy for Sustainable Development, respAct Austria, Austrian Code of Corporate Governance) and international initiatives and applies to all enterprises regardless of their size, sector, structure and ownership.
However, policies and processes focused on the promotion of social responsibility may vary according to the size of enterprise and circumstances under which it operates.
Since nearly 99,7 % of all enterprises in Austria are SMEs, they are the pillar of Austrian economy and major driver of the advancement of socially responsible practices.
Austrian SMEs employ approximately 67% of all employees and this fact has notably contributed to the low unemployment rate within the country.
Senior management at SMEs has already admitted that investment in socially responsible practices pays off in the long run and ensures sustainable development of businesses.
Socially responsible measures taken at SMEs are focused mostly on the following targets:
- Equal treatment of employees
- Safe work conditions
- Healthy environment
- Fair salary/wage structure
- Employee expertise development
- Work-life balance
- Internal social programmes
Employee’s competence development is one of the most important focus areas. High-skilled workers play a crucial role in the enhancement of innovative processes.
Thanks to dual education system, young people in Austria have an opportunity to combine practical vocational training with vocational schooling. Due to this system, apprentice receives training that matches the requirements of the current business environment.
In addition to vocational schools, higher technical schools and universities provide courses of study in all fields.
According to Austrian Business Agency, "dual education system makes a major contribution to ensuring that Austria continues to have one of the highest youth employment rates".
The involvement in apprenticeship training increases with company size. Thus, medium-sized enterprises show a higher engagement in qualifications measures than small enterprises.
For the education and training of employees, employers can reclaim a tax-exempt educational allowance of up to 20%. Alternately, firms can claim a 6% education credit for education expenditures.
Most SMEs ( about 85% ) offer their employees a personal working environment that ensures that special needs of employees are considered.
In addition to this, SMEs also offer flexible working hours so employees can juggle work and family. This activity is strongly promoted by the Audit Family and Professional Career. The objective of this procedure is to achieve a better compatibility between family and work.
The Audit supports enterprises to define and implement goals and measures for a family-oriented personnel policy. Within this initiative, companies are audited on such criteria as working time and place, personnel development, financial services for families.
The auditing is performed by external consultants. At the end of the audit, the certificate Audit Family and Professional Career can be granted to the enterprise. After a 3 year period a reauditing becomes necessary.
Another incentive in the field of promotion of family-friendly policies at enterprises is the federal competition of "Women and family-friendly Enterprises”. Small, medium-sized and large enterprises that participate in the competition are assessed on a number of criteria: number of women in leading positions and of women benefiting from life long learning initiatives, number of part-time jobs, flexibility of working hours and places, children-supportive policies.
Enterprises that provide the best programmes for elderly employees are awarded with a prize "Nestor”.
According to Austrian employment law, each enterprise that has 25 or more employees has to employ 1 handicapped person per 25 employees (or per 50 employees). It depends on the level of disability. For the employment of people with disabilities SMEs receive an acknowledgement award called JobOscar.
For an excellent integration of social responsibility concept SMEs receive prize Trigos, which is awarded in 3 categories : society, workplace, market. (Source www.trigos.at )
A perfect incentive for managers and entrepreneurs to act in a socially responsible way is an opportunity to receive award called "Responsible manager of the year” which focuses on social efforts of individuals.
Austrian SMEs take a great variety of measures to achieve the highest level of health and safety standards at offices and production facilities. Senior managers express strong commitment to the promotion of workplace health programmes since these steps have a positive impact on the employee’s productivity and performance. According to "CSR & Competitiveness : European SMEs' Good Practice. National Report Austria", 53% of all SMEs provide health checks for their employees and 48% of all SMEs offer sports and leisure activities.
In order to enhance their image in front of customers, suppliers and shareholders, Austrian SMEs should pay special attention to the transparency and completeness in the social responsibility reporting. Ethical and moral considerations help SMES build strong reputation which results in broader shareholder engagement, customer loyalty, attracting and retention of highly qualified employees. Commitment of SMEs to respect human rights and employ social responsibility can be expressed in mission/value statement, SME’s CSR policy, code of conduct for employees/suppliers, sales terms. Most SMEs communicate commitment through their websites and during open dialogue with shareholders.
The Federation of Austrian Industry and the Ministry of Economics and Labour created business led platform respAct Austria which assists SMEs in CSR reporting and addressing all questions regarding sustainability.
RespAct Austria conducted study called "The social responsibility of Austrian enterprises” and formulated a CSR Guiding Vision for the Austrian business sector called "Economic Success. Responsible action”. Platform helps to raise CSR awareness of enterprises and promotes exchange of experiences, know-how transfer and training.
Written by Natalie Myhalnytska