Come if You Can Cook

“The law” as Charles Dickens’ Mr. Bumble sagely observed “is an ass.” Austria’s economy is currently desperately short of skilled workers. Officially there are 27 Mangelberufe, undersubscribed jobs like auto mechanics and roofers, but mainly cooks and hotel staff for the booming tourist business. Of the 45,000 new jobs each year, some 80% are filled by foreigners, the vast majority from by our EU neighbors, principally Germany, Hungary, Romania and Serbia. But it’s still not enough and legal tangles are throttling the flow of non-EU job seekers to fill the spots. The Rot-Weiss-Rote Karte (see METROPOLE Newsletter of March 5), a kind of Alpine Green Card, was intended to smooth the way for people with these sought-after skills, but serious flaws in the implementation have strangled the system. Only about 2000 cards a year have been issued against the 8000 authorized. Reforms are in the pipeline, principally lowering the minimum qualifying wage levels to market realities. But the government seems in no hurry, and business people are impatient.

A particular absurdity is that the government has invested millions of Euros in language and job training schemes for asylum seekers, part of the integration program Kanzler Kurz set up in a previous incarnation as Integration Minister. Now, just as they complete their qualifications, they are being deported – a ridiculous waste of human resources and taxpayers’ money.  In an unlikely alliance, the two major supermarket chains Spar and Billa and the Green party’s integration specialist Rudi Anschober have formed a pressure group Ausbildung statt Abschiebung (training not deportation) and tried in vain to meet Kurz. Spar boss Gerhard Drexl was typically businesslike: “We could train 2,700 apprentices and we’re short of 400 all the time.” But as the deadline approaches for deportation of the 700 young immigrants – qualified and willing to work – Anschober has become quite angry. “It’s five minutes to twelve” he told the The Standard. Do something.