Austrian city hiring workers to administer fines, not ‘hunt’ unvaccinated
CLAIM: The Austrian government is hiring people to ‘hunt down’ unvaccinated people.
AP’S ASSESSMENT: Missing context. Officials in Linz, Austria, are hiring employees to administer fines to those who flout Austria’s planned COVID-19 vaccine mandate, which is slated to go into effect in February and will apply to all residents ages 14 and up. But the phrase “hunt down” mischaracterizes the new positions, which are administrative jobs.
THE FACTS: The misleading claim has circulated widely in English on social media and on conservative blogs in recent days.
“Austrian Government Hires Vaccination ‘Hunters’ to Track Down those Inhabitants Who Have Not Had Their Fauci Vaccine,” states one blog post headline, while a Twitter user wrote that Austria is “Looking to Hire Citizen Gestapo” to “Hunt Down” people who don’t get vaccinated.
Many of the posts cite a Dec. 21 article published by Blick, a German-language Swiss tabloid, that highlighted the city’s advertisements about the new openings. Some Twitter users posted a screenshot of an English translation of the article’s original headline, which stated, “Austria is looking for employees who hunt down vaccine refusers.” The headline has since been changed, removing the word “hunt,” but users continued to share the original.
But the characterization of the jobs is misleading and leaves out important context, according to Austrian officials. Linz is hiring administrative staff to process fines that will be issued to unvaccinated people as part of Austria’s vaccine mandate, but the positions don’t involve physically hunting unvaccinated people.
In a statement provided to the AP, Brigitta Schmidsberger, the human resources director for the city of Linz, said that the municipal government is hiring the employees in anticipation of the increased workload created by the mandate’s new financial penalty system.
“Like other cities, the City of Linz is looking for additional staff to ensure that the proceedings are dealt within a reasonable time frame,” she said. “The employees are now being sought and trained in advance so that the administrative procedures can be carried out in a timely manner and in accordance with the rule of law.”
Schmidsberger added that the new positions are “not about” hunting unvaccinated people, but “handling administrative penalty proceedings that are prescribed by the legislature.”
The Austrian government announced details of its planned vaccine mandate in early December. The mandate will be imposed on all residents aged 14 and over starting on Feb. 1, 2022. Those who aren’t already vaccinated or aren’t exempt from the requirement will face fines of up to 3,600 euros, roughly $4,000. The fines can be administered every three months for those who continue to refuse to get the shots.
According to the city’s online job listing, the positions will involve drawing up notices of fines, processing appeals and other administrative tasks.
An English translation of the job listing states, “You want to work with us in the Linz city administration in the levy and tax division? You enjoy working with legal regulations and administrative proceedings? Then become a member of the Linz municipal administration team!”
Martin Weiss, Austrian ambassador to the U.S., also characterized the claims as “misleading.”
“They took this one ad and said, ‘Now they are starting to hunt people down,’” he told the AP during a phone interview. “No, no. This is just a job ad. It’s a job ad that the city looks for someone to work in the tax and duties department.”
“Governments regularly employ people who enforce their laws. It’s what countries do,” Weiss added. “Once the requirement to be vaccinated is part of our laws, then those laws will be enforced, like wearing a seatbelt in the car.”
Associated Press writer Geir Moulson in Berlin, Germany contributed to this report.
This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.