Austria - Social development

Austria has one of the most advanced and comprehensive systems of social legislation in the world. The General Social Insurance Bill of 1955 unified all social security legislation and greatly increased the scope of benefits and number of insured. All wage and salary earners must carry sickness, disability, accident, old age, and unemployment insurance, with varying contribution levels by employer and employee for each type of insurance. Health insurance is available to industrial and agricultural workers, federal and professional employees, and members of various other occupational groups. For those without insurance or adequate means, treatment is paid for by public welfare funds.

Unemployment benefits mostly range from 40–50% of previous normal earnings. After three years' service, regular benefits are paid up to between 20 and 30 weeks; thereafter, for an indefinite period, a worker, subject to a means test, may receive emergency relief amounting to 92–95% of the regular benefit. Work injury laws were first enacted in 1887. Citizens are eligible for old age pensions after age 65 (men) and age 60 (women) if they have 35 years of contributions paid or credited.

Employers must contribute 4.5% of payroll earnings to a family allowance fund. Family allowances are paid monthly, depending on the number of dependent children, with the amount doubled for any child who is severely handicapped. The state provides school lunches for more than 100,000 children annually. In addition, it administers the organization of children's holiday programs and provides for the care of crippled children, for whom there is a state training school. The state also grants a special birth allowance and a payment for newlyweds setting up their first home; unmarried people establishing a common household may apply for tax remission. The government provides maternity benefits, takes care of destitute old people, and provides for war victims and disabled veterans. Administration of social insurance is carried out in the provinces by autonomous bodies in which both employers and employees are represented. Payment is also made to victims of political persecution during the Nazi era and to victims of violent crime.

Women make up an increasing percentage of the work force. Since 1998 they have been allowed in the military. A law passed the same year mandated that the legal prohibition against women working at night be lifted by 2001, in response to a ruling by the European Court of Justice, which is requiring that Austria adapt its legislation to meet European Union regulations, Austrian women still earn only 70% as much as men. Children's rights are fully protected by law. While the number of women in government is low in relation to the overall population, there are female members of parliament, cabinet ministers, state secretaries, town councilors, and mayors. A 1975 federal law provides for complete equality between husband and wife in maintaining the household and raising children. It is believed that violence against women is a widespread problem, and cases generally remain unreported.

The constitution provides for the freedoms of religion and assembly, and the government respects these rights. A growing problem is right-wing extremism and the emergence of neo-Nazi groups. Racial violence against ethnic minorities in Austria is evident. The right-wing Freedom Party, known for its strong anti-immigration stance, prompted widespread concern among Austria's European neighbors.

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