Long-term unemployed pull together
Figures released on Tuesday show the number of people out of work continues to rise and is fast approaching 150,000 (3.7 per cent).
Unemployment is a hot issue in October’s parliamentary elections, especially for the long-term unemployed who make up 17 per cent of the overall jobless figure.
Some 27 per cent of Swiss polled cited the worsening employment situation as their number one concern.
This is certainly true of 33-year-old Mark Schmidt, who lives in the eastern town of Einsiedeln and has been out of work for the past two years.
Schmidt is one of more than 150 people who are part of a new association for the long-term unemployed, which bills itself as the first of its kind in Switzerland.
They hold weekly meetings in an Einsiedeln church hall in the northeastern canton of Schwyz to discuss their situation.
There they can share experiences, network and post their curriculum vitae on the group’s new website.
“The aim of the forum is to encourage each other because some feel frustrated and after a little chat, they feel better,” one of the founding members, Max Gerber, told swissinfo.
Under new regulations introduced in July, the long-term jobless are no longer entitled to receive unemployment benefit, and instead are supported by social welfare where they receive less money each month – around SFr1,800 ($1,296).
The new law means that people who find themselves without a job are now only entitled to claim 400 days of unemployment benefit – down a quarter from 520 days.
This is part of a package of measures designed to improve the unemployment situation in the country, says Jean-Luc Nordmann, head of labour affairs at the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs.
“We’ve also implemented a system of Regional Placement Offices where the cantons provide support for those looking for a new job, and this is very effective, resulting in a drop in unemployment,” Nordmann explained.
“Long-term unemployed persons accounted for more than 30 per cent of all unemployed during the 1990s and now this has dropped to 17 per cent,” he continued.
But for those attending the self-help group in Einsiedeln, the new law is actually making matters worse.
Once a jobless person has used up their 400 days and they still have not found work, Max Gerber maintains the system simply casts them aside.
“Under the existing regulations, you are classed as unemployed for as along as you're insured and then you are a social case,” he complained.
Gerber and others in the group were critical of the role played by the Placement Offices. One group member said the only help he had received had been in writing his curriculum vitae.
“These people [in the Placement Offices] cannot help much because they don’t know the industry or the requirements and they don't know that that person may be trained-up to suit another occupation,” commented Gerber.
“They do have a list of open jobs but they hardly ever suit me. I was there for two years and they showed me about 12 jobs, but I've made about 250-300 applications,” he continued.
The self-help group noted that it’s not for a lack of trying that they cannot find a job. Competition for positions is stiff, pointed out Ruth Gwerder, who has until April before her unemployment benefit runs out.
Then, like Gerber and Mark Schmidt, she will no longer be classified as unemployed as she falls into the social welfare category.
According to Gerber, this will conveniently work to deflate government unemployment figures, which he says are far worse than authorities admit.
“The government unemployment figure of 3.7 per cent is absolute nonsense and one newspaper claimed that the unemployment rate is the same as last year, while they’ve completely forgotten that the time during which you receive benefit has been cut by a quarter,” he said.
The self-help group’s message to politicians standing in October’s parliamentary election is that those now on social welfare still need support. They would like more money put into efforts to find jobs for the long-term employed.
They agree that talking about their demands alone is not going to land them a job, but say the weekly meetings do go some way towards easing the sense of isolation they feel.
Nordmann admits that the new regulations were introduced at an unfortunate time, when the economy is down. “But we made the changes for good and bad economic situations,” he noted.
Nevertheless, for those at the Einsiedeln meeting – and elsewhere in Switzerland – the employment situation remains bleak. Nordmann expects the jobless figure to rise from 150,000 to 160,000 in January 2004.
swissinfo, Samantha Tonkin
People who have been out of work for more than a year account for 17 per cent of the unemployed.
Switzerland’s unemployment rate rose slightly in September to 3.7%.
The economics ministry has cut its forecast for the full-year jobless rate down from 3.9% to 3.7 %.
But it expects more than 150,000 people to be out of work by the end of the year.
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