Vorarlberg’s ÖVP joins Vienna’s Red/Green coalition in resisting the government’s controversial policy
As debate continues over the government’s proposed hourly wage of €1,50 for asylum seekers, cities and towns in the western province of Vorarlberg have refused to comply. “It’s a mockery. We won’t implement it,” said Harald Köhlmeier (ÖVP) president of the Vorarlberg Association of Municipalities in a statement April 6. “This proposal only aims to divide society.”
The controversial policy was announced last month (March 23) by Interior Minister Herbert Kickl (FPÖ) saying “asylum seekers will receive €1,50, and by no means more.” With some states allowing wages for community service work of up to €5 per hour, asylum seekers are currently earning more than draftees in the military and Zivildienst (alternative service), Kickl said.
At the national level, ÖVP Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (ÖVP) is behind the plan, calling the previous minimum wage “too attractive for immigrants.” Vice Chancellor Heinz Christian Strache (FPÖ) called the new legislation “a solution [that] promotes integration and willingness to work.”
The expected backlash from the national opposition SPÖ, NEOs and Greens was immediate. More surprising was the response in several provinces where ÖVP leaders – who were expected to support the proposal – were vocal in their resistance.
Representative of the Upper Austrian Parliament Thomas Stelzer and Vorarlberger Governor Markus Wallner both criticized the plan, with Wallner promising to maintain the local hourly wage of €4. Asylum seekers in Austria are provided with housing and meals but are not allowed to enter the normal workforce while their application is being considered. This takes months and sometimes years, and local mayors say the existing modest wages are important for social cohesion and to prevent crime.
Vorarlberg’s ÖVP has found allies in Vienna’s SPÖ-Green coalition, who are also contesting the pending minimum wage bill, saying it will only promote poverty. These are “brutal cuts” being directed at the weaker layers of society, said Reinhard Hundsmüller, director of Volkshilfe Österreich.
Under the policy, Austria’s nine federal states would be required to implement the new reform by June 1, 2021. In Vienna, City Councilor for Social Services Peter Hacker (SPÖ) has already vowed not to implement it. In response, Kurz has threatened Vienna with sanctions: “We live in a constitutional state,” Kurz said. “If one federal state intends to violate the constitution, that would be intolerable.” According to MP August Wörginger, a complaint supported by one-third of the Parliament could place the city’s act of defiance before the Constitutional Court for review.
Kickl’s proposal will be discussed in Parliament April 22. The coalition is thought to have the votes to pass the measure in May. However, opposition is expected to be strong: “If needed,” said Greens spokeswoman, Birgit Hebein, “we will do everything in our power to prevent this law.”