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Targeted measures for the unemployed

| Text: Henrik Brun, Photo: Jeroen Smith

By giving the jobless the 'right and duty' to work, the Danish government has managed to bring unemployment figures down. But, in a new reform, the Danish Minister of Labour recognises that compulsory activation in recent years has gone too far.

Ove HygumHighly qualified engineers packing birdseed in bags all day long. Teachers cutting up glossy weeklies and analysing them. Part-time cleaning assistants forced to move elsewhere even though they are happy in their current job. These are some of the more extreme examples of how the Danish principle of the 'right and duty' of the unemployed to work has sometimes manifested itself. On paper, this principle of 'right and duty' for activating the jobless has otherwise been a success.

It has got a lot of people out looking for work and has brought unemployment figures down. But there are also examples showing that activation has gone too far when it comes to the choice of jobs the unemployed must take to keep their dole money. This is what Ove Hygum, the Danish Social-Democrat Minister of Labour now wants to change with his proposed labour market reform. This reform aims to do away with the concept of 'compulsory activation'. There is a broad political consensus that, against a background of very low unemployment in Denmark, there is a need for far more targeted and individual measures for unemployed people still looking for work.

The reform does away with the requirement that an unemployed person must be active for 75 % of the three-year activation period.

"The system must continue to build on the 'right and duty' principle, but in some instances the 75 % rule has become activation for activation's sake," recognises Bjarne Laustsen, the Social- Democrat spokesman for labour relations.

Instead, activation must be more tailored to an individual's needs and not least the local conditions in that particular part of the country.

The local issue is particularly high on the wish list of the right-wing opposition, who support the main principles of the reform.

"It is very important that there is an easing of central control," says Knud Erik Kirkegaard, the Conservative spokesman for labour relations.

The non-socialist parties are also demanding that private players are afforded better opportunities to provide employment services and activation. The right wing believe that activation needs to be privatised in order to create an incentive for those employed in the public sector to get the unemployed into permanent jobs.

"Today, neither the job centres nor course providers are interested in getting the jobless into work. Their money comes from having people in the system," says Jens Vibjerg, the Liberal spokesman for labour relations. The Liberals are the largest right-wing party in Denmark.

The Social Democrats support further privatisation of activation, but they believe that competition must be completely open, so that the union insurance systems can also bid for such measures.

The Conservatives and Liberals have long campaigned for performance pay to be introduced at job centres. In other words, job-centre staff would be rewarded for the number of unemployed they can get completely out of the system. This is also part of labour minister Ove Hygum's proposal currently being discussed by the parties. The country's job centres have already got wind of the reform and its aims, and are now preparing for new times ahead.

 

 

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