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Social – Wages:

A comparison with the wages set in the second Libellus of 1563 shows that the daily earnings of skilled miners have remained fairly unchanged, while those of day laborers and other unskilled laborers have increased by about 50%. It can be seen that under the pressure of economic hardship the government had to at least boost the wages of the lower classes to keep them viable and able to work. However, the wages of the salt workers were still very meager.


Employment conditions in the rest of Upper Austria were significantly more favorable. A journeyman and a day laborer earned a good 50% more than a salt worker.


It should not be overlooked that the salt workers enjoyed many benefits in addition to their wages that were unknown outside of the Kammergut. They were exempt from military service and from military billeting, paid no taxes or levies unless they were homeowners, they had free medical treatment in the event of illness and constant care in old age.

Covering the demand for bread grain was one of the most important tasks of the Salt Office, which was authorized in times of rising prices to sell it to relatives below cost price. The livestock production of an entire district, the Hofmark with the Viechtau, served exclusively to supply meat to the Kammergut, the meat prices were set by the authorities and the butchers were supported with subsidies so that they were able to maintain these prices even in expensive times.  


The salt workers did not have to worry about the future of their sons, even in the first half of the 18th century every able-bodied farmer found appropriate income.


The low-wage miners often only worked short shifts and thus had the opportunity to earn an extra income. By enfeoffing infangs (peripheral parcels) and allocating timber, the government encouraged the development of extensive smallholdings. The purchase of firewood was free for all employees.


The miners in Ischl were paid much better than those in Hallstatt, so their economic situation was more favourable. Unfortunately, the reasons for the unequal treatment of the two companies could not be derived from the documents used. This difference is all the more striking as the other provisions of the Mining Code are the same for both salt mines.


Around 1690 the administrative offices in Hallstatt, Ischl and Ebensee had an excessively high number of men. Not only did they take in far too young workers aged 12 to 15, but also immigrant workers from other countries. In the Kammergut everything was trying to find accommodation in the imperial service.


The salt office did not cause any difficulties, on the contrary, its applications for commissions, grace money, alms, doctor's wages, educational contributions, etc. were "tardy, light and unfounded, written according to whim". Commissions were requested for people who were not entitled to them. Instead of flatly refusing requests, the officials even supported the parties in doing so. The officials wrote the submissions for commissions themselves and thus acquired a considerable additional income.


The number of old-age pensioners was also unnaturally high, because the workers took early commissions to make room for their sons or to sell the vacant position to a third party.


At the end of the 17th century, state finances were in particularly bad shape, and going into debt became the norm. In order to satisfy the empire's financial needs, the income from taxes was no longer nearly enough, even for the operation of the salt works in the Kammergut there was sometimes a lack of cash. Going into debt had become the norm in Austria in order to get over the current shortage of money.


The workers drew their wages at the weekend and the Salt Office had no greater concern than to send the Weeding Office the necessary cash for the payday. But he didn't always succeed, sometimes people had to return home empty-handed on Saturday because no money had come from Gmunden.


In 1693 the Kammergutarbeiter sent an emergency cry to the Court Chamber for grain; In Ebensee, Ischl and Hallstatt there was hunger and dysentery, the pans could no longer be operated, the deteriorating coinage had devalued the money.


The buyers, shipwrights and Stadlinger (shipmen) who worked in the manufacturing sector suffered even more than the imperial workers. In a petition written to Ischl, they complained that they had nothing left on their bodies and nothing to eat, in Laufen some had already died of hunger and the rest were about to emigrate with their wives and children and go begging. The finishers were also impoverished and could no longer pay them their wages.


The year 1696 was one of the saddest in the eventful history of the Salzamt. The Hofkriegszahlenamt claimed all of his receipts for itself.


The shortage of money was also so bad because the sales of salt fell noticeably as a result of the rapid succession of price increases in favor of smuggling. The Salzamtmann had to find outside money, which could no longer be obtained at an interest rate of 6 percent, in order to be able to secure the grain deliveries to the Kammergut.


The financial crisis lasted until 1703; they feared national bankruptcy and the loss of good faith among the people. All available means were necessary to maintain the empire and the army, and yet the payment of interest from the Salt Office could not be omitted. The emperor himself urged the salt office to send money to Gmunden so that the Gmunden office could pay the interest and pay the workers.

With the intention of increasing the number of people needed for salt work in the Kammergut, the sovereigns had favored the founding of families by allocating fiefdom, helping to build houses and granting a dowry.


By the end of the 17th century, this goal had not only been reached, but also exceeded; the supply of workers had outstripped the need. Marriage was no longer made so easy for young people and required the consent of the salt clerk; this only had to allow marriage to one or the other "busy and caring" worker. The allocation of infants (peripheral plots) was stopped, and the construction of new residential and farm buildings was made more difficult because there was no longer a particular desire to start families and there was every reason to limit the use of timber and to protect the forests.


From 1709 onwards, the construction of workers' houses was only approved on the condition that they were made of brickwork and that the wood required did not come from imperial forests.


A main inspection of the salt office ordered in 1733 under the direction of Count Starhemberg was to investigate and eliminate these abuses.

The perception was made that “almost the entire crowd there insists on it and proposes that everyone should be appointed ex ärario, so to speak, because the young people of both sexes no longer go into private service, neither learn a trade, but want to get married early . Instead of them only foreign servants were kept and many foreign people were bred into them and the chamber estate was therefore overpopulated.”

The Salt Office was instructed to encourage young people to do other than salt work, to remove immigrant strangers from the country, to restrict marriages, and to give stubborn elements to the soldiers.  


The appointment of Johann Georg Freiherr von Sternbach as Salzamtmann in 1743 marked the beginning of a new era. Sternbach intervened firmly in the administration of the Salzamt. The greatest and most difficult task was to reduce the excessively swollen labor force to economically justifiable proportions. So far, all the instructions and orders from the court authorities had remained fruitless because the officials knew what tremendous resistance they would unleash and had neither the courage nor the will to take up the inevitable fight

The workers, alarmed by the action of the Salzamtmann, sent deputations to Vienna to prevent the threatened dismantling, but found little to meet them.


Laid-off workers who, because of their age or family, could neither move nor earn an income elsewhere received maintenance payments. The unmarried boys who could not be used for salt or wood work and who were expendable joined the military. The recruitment of residents of the Salzkammergut violated the age-old statute that they should be exempt from any service.

The seriousness with which the layoffs and other austerity measures were carried out aroused the most violent resistance from the workers. This led to riots in Ebensee. Officials were physically attacked and injured. Ischl forest workers tried to regain their old rights by going on strike.


In order to give Sternbach's measures the necessary emphasis, 300 infantry and 30 men on horseback were sent to Gmunden under the command of a sergeant.


The movement had become dangerous because the majority of senior officials, who disliked Sternbach's harsh actions, sided with the workers and encouraged them. The bourgeois circles, on the other hand, especially the salt manufacturers, were worried about the workers' unrest because they feared that their trades would be disturbed and they could not know what extent the unrest would become.


A commission of inquiry was set up to urge the continuation unchanged of the measures introduced by Sternbach and approved by the government, and proceeded with the greatest severity against all who opposed them. Most of the participants in the uprising quickly showed remorse and there was no fear of a repeat of the unrest. Complaining officials were questioned by the commission of inquiry without involving the salt official. Their verdict was devastating for the applicants. Without exception, the commission found all objections to be unfounded, incorrect, impudent and of such a nature that the ignorance and negligence of the informants was proven and one was completely convinced of their recalcitrance. With this report, the fate of the complainants was decided, they were dismissed from the service.

After the suppression of the workers' uprising and the removal of his most dangerous opponents, Sternbach was able to continue and consolidate his reform work undisturbed from 1744 onwards.


Until 1753, the salt workers were regularly paid their wages on Saturdays after the weekly raitung (weekly payroll). In 1753, Salzamtmann Sternbach introduced four-week wage payments to save on paperwork and clerical work, and in the meantime gave the workers official slips with which they could buy from the millers and other tradespeople on Borg. The workers, whose economy had always been based on weekly pay, fought back and persuaded the investigative commission present to quickly withdraw Sternbach's decree.

The closer it got to the turn of the century, the greater the need in the Kammergut and the more dissatisfied the workers, whose wages had remained almost unchanged for 80 years.


A commemorative document written in 1797 by the spokesmen of the Hallstatt workers and presented to the Court Commission in Gmunden was extremely sharp in tone and openly expressed the ferment among the workers. The mountain carpenter Josef Pfandl, spokesman for the deputation at Count Aichold, said that the revolutionary ideas coming from France were fulfilled: "Things will be the same here in France as in France and in Vienna things are already going so well that no citizen would look at His Majesty pay more attention". The commission, outraged by Pfandl's language, found the authors guilty of defamation and attempted sedition and handed them over to the courts for trial. Pfandl was imprisoned in Ort near Gmunden for 388 days before he managed to escape. He then wandered erratically abroad and in November 1800 applied to Vienna for permission to travel home. At the request of the Court Chamber, which knew that the entire workforce was committed to him, the Emperor complied with his request.  


In the course of the 18th century the salaries of civil servants increased only partially and not significantly. The low wage increases have also permanently lost value due to the introduction of paper money alongside the metallic currency. In 1761, bank notes were first put into circulation as paper money. The people weren't happy about it.


Paper currency declined sharply between 1808 and 1810. As a result, the need for the staff increased.


In the years 1808 and 1809 the printing press printed more and more paper money, by 1810 this had almost completely replaced cash. On December 11, 1810, Austria stopped cash payments entirely, the bank notes were confiscated and replaced by redemption slips, which, however, only had 1/5 of the previous nominal value. Finally, in 1816, the rebuilding of the Austrian monetary economy began with the establishment of the National Bank. This alone was entitled to issue banknotes and obliged to redeem the current bill money.


The wages of the miners were anything but good, mainly because of the devaluation of the currency. The management of their small estates was therefore a necessity in order to be able to provide themselves with the most important staple foods. On the other hand, working in the mountains offered a basic income that made it easier for the miners to survive times of crisis than other occupational groups – agricultural or non-agricultural – whose existence was often threatened by price fluctuations or crop failures. It was this system of "safe poverty" that made working in salt mines so popular.


Austria's struggle against Napoleon required the utmost exertion of all forces and suppressed all other considerations. The imperial patent of October 25, 1804 granted exemption from military service only to executives and the most distinguished workers in the mines.


With the strict application of this regulation, the Salt Office would have had to stop all operations that were not allowed to be interrupted because of the salt supply of the Reich. The Salzamt and the Verwesämter were constantly trying to get their people free from the Assentierung (conscription), but the recruitment commission instructed by the Hofkriegsrat made no exception for the Kammergut and called up 183 men from the Kammergut for the position in July 1805. After an objection from the Salzamt, the recruiting commission held back only 41 men from the Kammergut.


The period of French rule from 1809 onwards was downright catastrophic for the salt industry. The income from the sale of salt in the country flowed into the coffers of the enemy intendancy, so the salt office could neither pay the wages of the salt workers nor procure the food they needed to feed themselves.


During the summer months of 1809, Hallstatt workers waited seven weeks for their wages. Hundreds of them marched in front of the office building in Lahn and threatened to take the salt from the stacks as payment if help didn't come soon.


A total of around 5,000 workers were probably employed in the salt industry around 1820. This number was already reduced by 1,058 men in 1825. In 1832, only 3,858 men served in the salt industry, 741 of them in Ischl. In 1851 the ministry set the peak of stable laborers at 3,739 men.


The misery of the many dismissed workers was great, so their urge to be accepted back into the service of the salt office was understandable. The offices had to suffer a lot from the onslaught of job seekers and it was difficult to always make the right choice.

In 1820, in addition to a shift wage of 45 Kreuzer, a worker also received farm grain and lard in exchange for the old limit price (purchase price).


From 1829 onwards, in order to be able to continue operations without problems in the event of major sick leave, military conscription or temporary additional demands, for example due to construction work, the administrative offices were forced to take on temporary interim workers (temporary workers) beyond the normal status of permanent workers.


The negotiations with the Oberamt led to a separation of the workers into three groups:                                                                                              

1. Stable workers entitled to commission and enjoying provisions (“full workers”).                                          

2. Stable and commission-eligible workers without provisions ("incomplete workers").                                                                                          

3. In non-permanent workers without a right to commission and provisions (“interim workers”).                              


The winter of 1847 increased the misery of the workers to an unbearable level. The people sold their livestock, got into debt, couldn't get flour from the millers in advance, lost their strength and didn't have enough to clothe themselves.


In January 1848, the Hofkammer began working out a new wage system that was intended to bring the workers a significant improvement in their income.


The workers had always been used to bringing their wages home at the end of each week. In 1823, the court chamber wanted to introduce monthly payment to save on a lot of paperwork, but gave up due to the great resistance of the workers and finally stuck with the fortnightly payment.


In 1848 the old wish of the working class for the reintroduction of weekly pay was fulfilled.

For the payment of wages, it was customary for the clerk responsible for compiling the wage list to collect the necessary money from the till and for the foremen to make the payment. But no master was allowed to pay off his own staff. In order to be safe from fraud in shift calculations, the Hofkammer transferred this business to the cashiers in 1824.


In 1848, the Court Chamber set the 48-hour week for all miners equally and wanted to break it down into six eight-hour shifts. However, she only found the approval of the Ausseer miners, while those in Hallstatt and Ischl insisted on the six-hour pit shift that had been granted to them in 1771. Mining lasted from Monday to Friday, leaving Saturday free for chores around the house.


If the office needed farmhands, it encouraged marriages by providing marriage money, giving birth and giving away wood for building houses free of charge. When the fruits of economic policy had ripened and there were too many job seekers, the Oberamt again restricted marriages and denied the workers the necessary marriage permits. Maria Theresa's reforms had deprived the Salzamt of being able to enact marriage bans by legal means.


Hofrat Schiller was faced with the hard and difficult task of not only adapting the excessive number of men to actual needs, but also of proceeding more strictly with the marriage permits that had previously been granted indiscriminately. In spite of the legal freedom to marry, the Oberamt still had effective means of discouraging the younger workers from marrying. It was within the power of the Salt Office to tie new marriage permits to the renunciation of the family grain. From 1830 onwards, the Oberamt denied marriage permits to all workers who were not yet eligible for a commission and had therefore not yet completed their eighth year of service. In addition, it no longer allowed them to receive the family grain.


These measures, but especially the loss of the family grain, kept young people from getting married early, and by 1843 the number of marriage applications had already fallen sharply.


A decree issued by the Emperor in December 1848 ordered leniency for sentences not yet executed and the termination of investigations. Furthermore, the reintroduction of the family grain, the reduction of the pasture interest by half, the reduction in the price of wood for the needy and the abolition of the long-service work.


These government concessions were able to satisfy and reassure the workers. There was no real uprising movement in the Kammergut, but fears of such a movement prompted the authorities to take some precautionary measures. The Saline Ebensee had set up a fire station for a short time. A section of the National Guard had taken up position in Ischl. In October 1848, due to a shortage of firearms, the Board of Directors of the National Guard asked the Oberamt for the production of 120 pikes and for a contribution to the uniforming of the poor guards from the working class. The government had no objection to the production of pikes in the Ebensee court smithy, the salt works actually supplied the National Guard with 60 pikes. But she refused the uniform expenses, the workers should fall back on the funds of the brother shop.


The long period of war, with its insatiable demands on men fit for arms, had eliminated the old privilege of the salt workers, who had also become conscripts and were subject to military laws. In November 1818, 124 men from the Kammergut were drafted to Kremsmünster for recruitment. In 1819, 168 Landwehr men from the Kammergut were ordered to move into Vöcklabruck for a fourteen-day weapons exercise and examination.


It was important to the Salzamt to exempt people from military service who were indispensable for the company or who were difficult to replace. In response to their ideas, a joint commission consisting of representatives of the district office, the salt office and the military district command came together in 1820 to determine the categories desired for military liberation. According to this agreement, 1,385 of a total of 5,530 employees were to be released from military service for a limited period of time.


Up until the 19th century, the salt workers in the Kammergut received “limito provisions”, a certain amount of grain and lard that could be purchased at fixed, reduced prices. This cheaper way of passing on food had made a significant contribution to alleviating the social hardship of the miners, especially in times of crisis, when the price of food rose sharply. On the other hand, even in the 19th century, the basic wages of salt workers were always below those of qualified factory workers. The system of "secure poverty" continued into the 19th century: working as a stable miner or salt worker was secure employment even in times of crisis, but cuts in pay had to be accepted.

Sources used:

Carl Schraml "The Upper Austrian salt works from the beginning of the 16th to the middle of the 18th century", Vienna 1932

Carl Schraml "The Upper Austrian Salt Works from 1750 to the time after the French Wars", Vienna 1934

Carl Schraml "The Upper Austrian Salt Works from 1818 to the end of the Salt Office in 1850", Vienna 1936

Ischl home club "Bad Ischl home book 2004", Bad Ischl 2004

FX Mannert "Of Ischl and the people of Ischl...", Bad Ischl 2012

FX Mannert "From Ischl and the people of Ischl... 2.0", Bad Ischl 2016

"Mining - everyday life and identity of the Dürrnberg miners and Hallein saltworks workers", Salzburg contributions to folklore, Salzburg, 1998

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