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Ujnemployment is (not) a Full-time Job

by Ilse Leide-Krapfenbauer Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016 at 8:44 AM

There are many scandals and injustices, for example that wealth concentration in Austria and the EU is increasing. However, the debate is again about the "unemployed unwilling to work" instead of about the widening gap.


By Ilse Leidl-Krapfenbauer

[This article published on August 10, 2016, is translated from the German on the Internet,]

Once again – as last summer – the debate about the performance and morality of job-seekers is heating up… Persons searching for work are not the same and cannot be thrown in one pot or condemned. However, nearly all people impacted by unemployment have one thing in common: they would like a good job from which they can live.


There are many scandals and injustices – for example, that wealth concentration in Austria and the EU is increasing. The gap between the rich and the "middle class" or working persons (including small entrepreneurs) widens more and more. However, the debate is again about the "unemployed unwilling to work" instead of the media and representatives of small businesses concentrating on the widening gap. Some Austrian politicians say the reasonability criteria for the unemployed are much too lax.


Reasonable jobs must be accepted. The unemployment law in Austria is relatively strict. As an example, a single mother with occupational experience in the catering trade must accept an offered job with a driving time of 45 minutes. Working hours of part-time jobs (24 weekly hours) are mainly in the evenings, on weekends and at lunch time. Although legally reasonable, the job offer can bring considerable problems for a woman since childcare at those times must be privately organized. A 24-hour week becomes a 30-hour week with the driving time of one-and-a-half hours every working day. There is a legal obligation to accept jobs in minimum security.

There are always persons who violate systems (like social security systems) and do not work – although paid work has a very important social and economic function for most people. Still, this is a small minority. The large majority (of the 950,000 people stricken by unemployment in 2015) need a good social security system to avoid skidding into poverty since there are no appropriate jobs for them.


In the first half of 2016, 8000 sanctions were imposed for not accepting jobs. In2015, there were a little over 14,000. That is a small share – 1.5% - of the 950,000 unemployed.

Experience from counseling job-seekers shows their performance is unjustly blocked… This was an extremely hard situation for them since they had no income from one day to the next.


Harsh criticism came above all from the catering trade. Here there are many unfilled jobs because many seasonal workers come to Austria from East Germany because of the better economic situation but are not hired as workers. This line of business is not particularly attractive for employees: a mixture of family-unfriendly working hours, low pay and vexatious working hours. The widespread share of moonlighting and seasonal unemployment further lowers the attractiveness. Representatives from the catering trade draw a disastrous picture of the "rotten" unemployed instead of striving for better working conditions.


Studies reveal a much-differentiated picture of job-seekers. The group of "unemployed" is very heterogeneous.


"Searching for work is a full-time job. The "unemployment" situation completely claims many people. Job-seekers often take many things on themselves and accept the concessions of a job – often any job – which are sometimes great. With salary, time away, and working on their "own appearance," many job-seekers take their "job" very seriously.

The desire of all the interviewed persons is work from which they and their family can live. In an ideal way, a "family business" is a business that pays attention to its co-workers and offers support in the compatibility of occupation and family. The realities of the labor market often look different: high fluctuation and few open jobs in some fields and regions.

Many businesses seek applicants who on one hand are as young as possible and bring low salary expectations while on the other hand have much occupational experience. This problem affects younger and older job-seekers. Some report they cannot get a job for lack of experience. Others say their experience did not help them because they are too old and too expensive. Age also seems to be a problem in the catering trade.

In addition, hiring strategies of businesses are changing. The hiring process is often connected with free work. As an example, "editorial teaching staffs" are created in the journalist sector so beginning journalists did not have to be paid.


Drawing a differentiated picture of unemployment seems hard for many people. Sweeping or all-inclusive pre-judgments do not help solve the problem. In Austria, we have a shortage of available jobs. Nearly 380,000 job-seekers face 43,800 open positions, nine persons for one position. There are problems in filling free positions in many fields. This is often because much is expected of workers for little money. Improvement of working conditions and higher pay are keys and necessities here.

The regulations of the unemployment insurance system are strict and many job-seekers are already under enormous pressure. Will reasonability definitions be tightened or labor market reforms a la Hartz IV introduced? (Hartz IV was a radical German welfare reform that combined unemployment benefits and income support and was declared in violation of basic human rights by the German Constitutional Court.) A low-wage sector promoted by the authorities (slogan "one-euro-jobs") is likely in the worst case. Much money could be spent for miserable jobs instead of investing these funds in better training, giving people better future prospects and giving employers better-trained employees.

What a pity that politicians are obviously split here. Those worried about their jobs are mad about those seeking a new job. We should all have a great interest in those with precarious employment and in an efficient and fair protection against unemployment. In view of the attention given to this debate, political forces who publically seek to push back the social state are rubbing their hands.

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