The system of co-operation on economic and social issues, commonly referred to as "social partnership", is a voluntary arrangement. Developed over time, this cooperation of the various interest groups is mostly of an informal nature and not regulated by law.
The social partnership does not deal with industrial relations alone - collective agreements are negotiated on the employer side usually by the relevant suborganisations of the Federal Economic Chamber and on the employee side by the Trade Union Federation. It is estimated that 90-95% of private-sector employees are covered by collective agreements.
What distinguishes the Austrian social partnership is that it extends to practically all areas of economic and social policy. For this reason Austria is considered an excellent example of corporatism, i.e. comprehensive and co-ordinated representation of group interests.
Austria's four large representative organisations
- Federal Economic Chamber - Wirtschaftskammer Österreich (WKÖ)
- Chamber of Agriculture - Landwirtschaftskammer Österreich (LK)
- Federal Chamber of Labour - Bundesarbeitskammer (BAK, German only) and
- Trade Union Federation - Österreichischer Gewerkschaftsbund (ÖGB, German only)
are not merely interest groups in the narrow sense, as wage and price negotiators and lobbyists providing services for their members. They are established institutions anchored in Austria's political system in many ways. The Trade Union Federation is organised as a registered society or association, while the three chamber organisations are self-administrating entities under public law with compulsory membership.