VIENNA (Reuters) - In Austria, where a title before one's name is a huge status symbol, the government is offering to elevate all schoolteachers to "professor" to help settle a 12-year labor dispute.
Schoolteachers who dug in their heels against any reform of working conditions have been asked to work longer hours under more flexible conditions in exchange for a range of benefits including "professor" titles.
Until now, only teachers at elite secondary schools have been allowed to use the honorary title of "professor" in Austria, where aristocratic titles been banned since 1919 following the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
But such is the enduring concern with status and hierarchy that nameplates with multiple instances of "Prof." (professor) "Dip. Ing." (graduate engineer) or "Mag." (holder of a master's degree) are common, and online forms give title choices that can run into the dozens.
Reform of working conditions for Austrian teachers was first attempted in 2001, and talks began in earnest in 2011. After 33 inconclusive rounds of negotiations, the government this week unilaterally submitted a proposal for independent evaluation.
The draft legislation proposes extending teaching hours to 24 hours per week from 20-22 now along with an increase in starting salary to 2,420 euros ($3,200) per month from the present 2,025 to 2,293 euros, but a lower cap on final salaries, as well as the "professor" titles.
Chief teachers' union negotiator Paul Kimberger objected to the government's unilateral move and said it had been too slow to involve all relevant parties in negotiations.
"I don't think the union should put up with this," he told Der Standard newspaper. "It is much too late and now, shortly before the election, panic is breaking out."
The legislation will almost certainly not pass before the Alpine republic's next national election on September 29. ($1 = 0.7555 euros)
(Reporting by Georgina Prodhan; Editing by Mark Heinrich)