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Unemployed treated as merchandise

12 July 2008 - "Suppose he'd have to hire ten Poles for 640 euro, then we'll give him twenty welfare recipients for the same price". The unemployed are treated as merchandise, according to a report by press agency GPD.

Social assistance recipients can be required to accept so-called 'participation jobs' for at most two years, without receiving a salary and without getting an employment contract. If they refuse, their benefit may be cut.

In Amsterdam, there are two thousand people with participation jobs. People can be working at the Aalsmeer flower auction, in greenhouses around Amsterdam, at the Combiwel social welfare agency or as part of a promotion team of the Pigs in Distress foundation.

Participation jobs are not supposed to replace regular jobs. However, one 47-year old woman told the GPD she applied for a position of shop assistant at the Hema department store and was rejected because of her age. A few months later, she was offered a participation job at the Hema, doing the work of a shop assistant. Hema commented that a mistake has been made.

Social assistance recipients are seconded to employers by the organisation Pantar. Director Piet Dek explained to the GPD how prices are set: "We ask an employer how much he'd normally have spent. Suppose he'd have to hire ten Poles for 640 euro, then we'll give him twenty [social assistance recipients] for the same price. But sometimes there's some negotiating involved. If various companies need our people at the same time, we can of course ask more money".

Formally, participation jobs are supposed to prepare the unemployed for regular employment. However, Dek says the idea is not to learn a job, "but to learn to get up in time in the morning and to carry out assignments".

Various employers acknowledge that they have no intention to hire the people with participation jobs after the two-year term expires. Piet van der Lende of welfare recipients' organisation Bijstandsbond calls it 'modern slavery'. "They can work somewhere for two years and then they'll be replaced". Board member Leo Hartveld of trade union confederation FNV calls it 'a bloody shame'.

Participation jobs are intended for people who are considered ill-prepared for the labour market. These include people with mental health problems, but also people who are over fifty years old.

Source: Jacqueline Steenwijk / Nederlands Dagblad. Image: 'Work comes first! Therefore... / Work? Do I have to? I can get social assistance, can't I? / You don't get a benefit for nothing. It is normal to work..! You had a job when you were a student, didn't you..?' From a comic book produced by the Amsterdam Welfare Agency to prepare clients for the new social assistance act that took effect in 2004.


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