5.1.4 Social security frameworks
For a long time there were no specific regulations to ensure that social security provisions for artists reached across all professional fields. Only artists in the music and visual arts sectors were covered by the obligatory social security provisions. All other artists were free to enrol in a social security insurance plan of their choice. Several funds were created to help artists pay part of their (non-obligatory) social security insurance, the Künstlerhilfe Fonds for visual artists, for example (see chapter 8.1.2).
The Employment and Social Security Law Amendment Act (1997)produced an initial change: up until 1997, artists had widely differing social security coverage, depending on their professional status, nature of labour relations and field of work. This amendment generally regulated labour conditions and required contracts for all freelance workers in the form of either a Werkvertrag (contract for work) - also called the "new" self-employed, a term that describes one person enterprises without a trade licence - or a freier Dienstvertrag (self-employed contract of service), depending on the nature of the work (people who work under the freier Dienstvertrag have more social protection than the self employed, but less than the employed).
Following this amendment, anyone earning over 6 453 EUR per year was forced to pay social security insurance. Artists were exempt from this Law until the end of 2000 and were not obliged to pay social security insurance. Those who chose to pay the insurance could apply to the above mentioned funds, like Künstlerhilfe Fonds (see chapter 8.1.2) to help cover the costs of their social security fees.
Artists have been comparatively successful in creating, improving and consolidating lobbies for themselves. Authors and translators in particular, as well as cultural initiatives, and to some extent independent theatre groups, cinematographers and media artists have been able to create associations and interest groups to represent them in public, to lobby for more funds and commissions, to fight for legal and social improvements and for the maintenance of artistic freedom. Among their major achievements has been an improvement in the flow of information on market opportunities and mutual communication among artists. As to their social security status, several reforms and improvements (copyright, social security scheme for artists and other social benefits) have been achieved by umbrella organisations, interest groups and collecting societies.
2001 the Law on Social Security for Artists (Künstler-Sozialversicherungsfondsgesetz) came into force (since 2011 it has been called the Artist's Social-Security Insurance Structure Act) and freelance artists are treated the same as other self-employed professionals, which means they must pay their statutory social security insurance if they earn more than 6 453 EUR per annum. In many cases, the new Law created a situation whereby artists end up making two different types of social insurance payments: statutory insurance for freelance work and any other social security insurance payments which result from other part-time employment contracts they may have. As many freelance artists are employed both part-time and do freelance work, the contribution to the social security system is relatively high compared to total income. There was a change here in 2009, and indeed one that applies for those cases in which additional to self-employment there is a further income: if this income exceeds the threshold of EUR 4 515 (2012) it will also be subject to the obligatory social insurance payments.
The Law set up a Social Security Insurance Fund for Artists (Künstlersozialversicherungs-Fonds) which grants artists a pension supplement of up to EUR 130 per month, if their annual income from artistic activity is at least EUR 4 515 (2012) and the sum of all their income does not exceed EUR 22 575 (2012) annually. This amount increases by EUR 2 257 for each child for which Child Benefit is drawn. The pension supplement is based on self-evaluation of future income. If either of the above limits is not achieved, or is exceeded, the supplement has to be paid back. Those artists entitled to receive a grant must meet certain requirements such as being specifically trained (art-university graduates, for example). Others are selected by a specific board (commission). Each year about 4 500 to 5 000 artists receive this pension supplement; about 20% do not reach the minimum level.
The new Social Security Insurance System was widely criticised by artists and their professional associations, mainly because of the exclusion of artists on very low incomes. Further demands were to secure obligatory contributions to the fund by the federal government and a supplement not only for pensions but also for health and accident insurance.
The reform of the artists' social insurance is among the cultural policy priorities of the new government. Based on the study "On the social situation of artists in Austria", which the Ministry for Education, the Arts and Culture commissioned in 2008, and on a working conference following publication in 2009, an inter-ministerial working group has drafted further amendments to the law and proposed measures to improve the situation of artists, which should be implemented in the near future.
Two results have so far been presented: on the one hand, a service centre for artists that offers advice and support for social-security issues has been established. However, this does not provide a "social security under one roof" covering both freelance and directly employed, artistic and non-artistic activities, as called for by the interest-group representatives. The second change concerns the opportunity from 2011 for artists to register their self-employed activity and the resulting obligatory insurance as being idle, so that they have access to benefits from unemployment insurance. The interest-group representatives see these measures as the necessary first step to improving the social situation of artists in Austria. Further interest-group demands can be found at http://www.kulturrat.at.
See also comparative information provided in the Compendium "Themes!" section under "Status of Artists".