We spoke with Radivoje Petrikić, a partner at CMS International Law Firm, the fourth biggest law firm in the world in the number of offices and attorneys, about how his office has organized their business activities, and what measures did the Austrian government implement to help the economy.
“We have a unique way of working, so there are no big differences between Vienna and Belgrade offices. We have a one-of-a-kind approach to providing our services, as well as an integrated system through which we are all connected. There is an emergency situation and restrictions in Vienna, but no curfew and no state of emergency, ”says Mr Petrikić.
Photo: Anđela Grozdanić
How did you organize your business activities in Serbia and elsewhere in Europe?
Our employees in Belgrade started working from home before all the emergency measures came into force, starting on March 13, and since Monday, March 16, the entire CMS office has been working from home, continuing to provide services to all our clients.
At the moment, most of the questions we get are related to labour law. There are many inquiries about commercial force majeure contracts, since there are, given the current situation, ambiguities relating to them because every country has its own approach to the crisis so we need to very carefully examine each contract in detail and apply provisions that are foreseen in this case.
We are also finalizing the transactions related to buying and selling companies, which began before the pandemic. Considering that certain preparatory activities are underway, I can see that energy and renewable energy projects are continuing to be developed. Obviously, there will be a turnaround after the crisis and many countries will reorient themselves to obtaining energy from renewable sources to a greater degree.
What is the situation with laying off workers in Austria?
Yes, that is true. 200,000 people in Austria were made redundant, and we have close to half a million unemployed people, for the first time since Second World War, but these are mostly a result of layoffs in the so-called service economy.
Many hotels, restaurants and other catering facilities are temporarily closed. However, the Austrian welfare system really gives substantial help to people who lose their jobs as they immediately receive compensation from the unemployment fund. There is also the possibility of part-time work, as well as working in jobs whereby the Austrian state covers over 90% of the cost to employers. The social measures implemented here have really helped the economy. A few days ago, the Austrian Parliament again adopted a package of measures worth 15 billion euro, with the state taking over as a guarantor for loans granted to companies that are experiencing difficulties in the current situation.
What kind of measures are those and how will the Austrian state help businesses?
As I said earlier, the first package of measures is worth 4 billion euro and the second package 15 billion euro. In principle, the largest part relates to guarantees given by the Austrian state totalling 15 billion euro, for which companies that meet certain conditions are eligible. They have different pay grades and different criteria according to which companies receive assistance depending on their turnover and number of employees. The Austrian Chamber of Commerce’s servers shut down due to numerous requests they received primarily from small and medium-sized enterprises. Austria is really taking care of its economy and that first package should cushion some of the losses generated during the first three months of the coronavirus pandemic because about 9 to 10% of Austria’s GDP is affected.
What does living in Vienna look like currently? Are their movement restrictions or curfews in place?
We are still moving around freely. There are certain movement restrictions in place but you can shop for groceries or take a walk but only with a person who lives in the same household as you. A lot of people are walking around here, certain parks are still full while some are closed, but people are still taking walks and jogging while being mindful of the required physical distance of at least one metre. Strict checks are carried out.
A total of 16,500 charges and fines have already been executed due to the violation of these rules. I think that the Austrian government keeps all of this under control quite well and people are very disciplined. I have to say that the situation here is slowly but surely going back to normal and is more relaxed. For the first time after three days, we have more people cured of the coronavirus infection than those falling ill. This is really encouraging to hear. Obviously, the Austrian government has managed to cushion the blow of the pandemic quite well for the time being.
What are the projections in Austria as far as the duration of the pandemic and expectations regarding the progress in the suppression of this virus?
The first measures towards normalization of the current situation will probably be implemented after Easter holidays, meaning in 7 to 8 days. This means that big shops like “Do It Yourself”, which sell building materials, will open, as will restaurants. The plan is to open schools on 1st June and liberalize passenger transport on 1st July but there will likely to be some precautions. This is an approximate timeframe for the normalization of the situation.
What will you do first after the crisis passes over?
We are celebrating 20 years of operations this year and we are planning to hold a big concert with the RTS Symphony Orchestra on October 1st, which is something we will probably do first. It will be our first reunion. We will try to define maybe some new concepts related to working and living. I think this is something we should all do and consider as individuals. This is, in my opinion, a great test for humanity but also an opportunity to redefine some values and to live in better harmony with nature and all that surrounds us. We need to change the way we treat each other, which is necessary in our beloved Serbia, because this time of crisis, with all its fierceness, has really shown us how important it is how much we use human resources, as well as how important is education and health because in the battle between economy and life I think life wins after all.