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'Amsterdam cannot just put the unemployed to work'

10 October 2008 - Municipalities cannot just force social assistance recipients to weed or pack tubes of super glue, the Arnhem court ruled last Wednesday. The ruling may affect the Amsterdam welfare agency as well.

The Arnhem judge ruled that the welfare agency may only require someone to do simple work for an extended period if this improves his or her chances on the labour market. For each individual it should be assessed whether such a 'work first' approach makes sense.

In Amsterdam, such an individual assessment is often skipped, says lawyer Marc van Hoof of social assistant recipients' organisation Bijstandsbond. "Often people are told right away: you go to Pantar". Pantar is the agency that will subsequently put people to work. At this moment it is not known whether clients in Amsterdam will go to court on the basis of the Arnhem ruling.

The social assistance recipient in Arnhem, who has since found a job on his own, argued that the municipality had subjected him to forced labour. The court did not go along, but did say that 'work first' can amount to compulsory labour, which would be a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights as well.

On behalf of an articulate client from Amsterdam, Van Hoof has started a legal procedure arguing that hers was indeed a case of forced labour. The welfare agency sent her to a 'disciplining programme' that is not intended for people like herself, who have a good chance of finding a job. Apparently, they wanted to show her who's boss, Van Hoof said.


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