Austrian trade union under fire for FB poll suggesting Muslims be stripped of Christmas bonus

© Leonhard Foeger
Free Workers of Upper Austria (FAO), a trade union close to the far-right Freedom Party (FPO), has deleted an online poll asking whether Muslim workers should have their Christmas bonuses docked after the post triggered an online backlash.

The poll posted on the FAO’s official FB page on Thursday invited some 14,000 followers to answer the question: “Is Christmas money for Muslims a contradiction?” by choosing from two possible options. The first suggested that the bonus should be paid to everybody, irrespective of religious beliefs. The other argued that “if they [Muslim workers] are against all Christian traditions, they should also stand against Christmas money.”    

“Soon we have Christmas money again. Also for Muslims, who deny Christian fests and traditions. What do you think about it?” read the caption on the image accompanying the poll. 

Of the 600 people quick enough to take part in the poll before it was taken down on Sunday, only a fifth went for the “money for all” option, while the majority of FAO supporters favored the one calling on Muslims not to accept the bonus, local Nachrichten.at news site reports.   

The poll has courted much controversy online since its publication, with many pointing out that the Christmas bonus, which is widely known as a 13th salary, is commonly covered by a collective agreement and is not in any way dependent on religion.

“The 13th salary – compulsory state savings, has nothing to do with Christmas,” Austrian journalist Anneliese Rohrer tweeted. 

Some commentators went as far as to accuse the authors of the poll, as well as the party they support, of harboring racist views and disregarding the contribution of the Muslim workers to the society. 

“The FPÖ shows here that its demands are not about the working people in Austria, but about attracting votes for their entrepreneur-friendly policy with racism,” a post by Austrian social justice movement Aufbruch read. 

“This ‘no Christmas money for Muslims’ debate shows that they doesn’t value the work of Muslims although they work properly,” @Freizeitrobin tweeted. 

Following the outrage, the chair of the local Free Workers union, Gerhard Knoll, tried to downplay the seemingly discriminatory character of the poll, saying the union only sought to “initiate a discussion.”

The wording of the poll purported to “show a double standard” in Muslims’ attitude towards Austrian society, opposing Christmas in general, but welcoming it when it's profitable for Muslims, he claimed.

READ MORE: Christmas not offensive, employers told by equality body

“Many Muslims have a problem with the word ‘Christmas’ and it is debated whether the Christmas markets should be renamed to winter markets… And as far as Christmas money is concerned suddenly no one Muslim has a problem with the word ‘Christmas,’ he argued.

At the same time, Knoll stressed that the FAO did not intend to push the issue by merely publishing the poll, while attempting to distance the union from the heated debate.

“This is not a demand from us. It would be really a discriminatory one,” Knoll said, adding that the union had decided to remove the poll from its FB page after the controversy sprawled out of control.

“It’s just not that kind of discussion that is appropriate for a peaceful pre-Christmas time.”

However, some FAO supporters welcomed the idea with great enthusiasm.

“This the exactly how every employer should do!” Miriam Oezen wrote, depicting an encounter between a boss and a Muslim employee in a cartoon, in which the employer tells his Muslim employee that he hadn't given him a Christmas bonus because he didn’t want to “hurt his religious feelings.”