May 10, 2020 / 3:22 PM / 22 days ago

Some Austrian companies abusing COVID-19 short-hours subsidies - finance ministry

ZURICH, May 10 (Reuters) - Some Austrian companies are abusing state subsidies for staff on short-time working or using illegal workers during the coronavirus pandemic, the finance ministry said on Sunday after spot checks found hundreds of violations of the law.

The short-hours regime, known in German as Kurzarbeit, is the main vehicle for preventing mass layoffs. The state helps top up pay for staff who remain on the payroll but work only a fraction of their normal hours given a sharp drop-off in demand.

Austria has authorised 10 billion euros ($10.8 billion) to support short hours, and 350 financial police officers have been doing spot checks on businesses for three weeks to measure companies' compliance.

Inspections of 5,119 people at 1,946 companies uncovered 460 violations of laws. Authorities have filed complaints against 31 people suspected of abusing the short-time working scheme, and nine on short hours for tax evasion, a ministry statement said.

Some companies were taking state subsidies while letting staff work more than allowed, the ministry added.

"There is zero tolerance towards those who want to enrich themselves at taxpayer expense," Finance Minister Gernot Bluemel said.

People convicted of abusing subsidies face imprisonment of up to five years in addition to tough penalties for forging documents and fraud.

($1 = 0.9225 euros)

Reporting by Michael Shields; Editing by Pravin Char

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