Troublesome Public Works

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As analysed in the recently published publication Roma Inclusion in the Croatian Society: a Baseline Data Study, members of the Roma national minority are classed as hard-to-employ persons, both due to prejudice and discrimination in the field of employment, and the lower educational levels in this population. The publication is a comprehensive and excellently done work of applying the qualitative methodology of social sciences on the Roma in Croatia.

The current research confirms the assumptions and data of institutions on a high rate of unemployment within the Roma population – the study Everyday Life for the Roma in Croatia: obstacles and opportunities for change in 2014 states that the unemployment rate of the Roma aged 15 to 64 is 65.1 percent, while the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights in 2016 states 62 percent.

A large number of Roma work in the grey economy sector or on short-term jobs. It should also be taken into account that employment opportunities in some areas of Croatia are significantly reduced for the entire population, and some areas overlap with those where a significant proportion of the Roma population lives.

According to Roma Inclusion in the Croatian Society survey research data, the share of unemployed members of Roma households aged 15 to 65 is 43.8%, 7.3% of those in full-time paid employment and 9.2 of those in temporary or occasional work, while 2.1% are self-employed. If the 21.4% who take care of the household full-time are divided by sex and added to the unemployed category, it becomes clear that three quarters of Roma women are either unemployed or are housewives.

A lack of education and qualifications is the problem recognised by representatives of the relevant institutions as the greatest obstacle to Roma employment. Of course, discrimination was also recognized as a serious problem for their employment. The interviewed Roma national minority representatives recognise discrimination in finding employment as the dominant problem that’s easily and quickly specified. The unemployability of people with secondary education is concerning, as it demotivates other members of the Roma national minority to take up secondary education.

The survey research of the Roma Inclusion in the Croatian Society publication has shown that the unemployment rate is very high among the young Roma, or those from 16-30 years of age. Out of the 1,447 who answered the question regarding employment status, as many as 669 (46.2%) stated they were unemployed. It has been established that of those who do some kind of work a relative majority works in the private sector, and a fifth in the public or state sector, where it needs to be stressed that it can be surmised that this form of work very usually concerns public works.

It has been established that members of the Roma national minority make very little use of specific measures, with the only one used with some level of frequency being the measure through which they took part in public works. Thus of the 715 interviewees, 18% used precisely this measure.

But here we are faced with a special problem of Croatian shaky active employment policy. Fixed-term and supply work are actually a big problem because these options do not stimulate the community. Such measures are not motivating and do not contribute to permanent employment.

Public works are a measure carried out in cooperation with local self-government units and non-profit organizations with a view to activating the unemployed in activities of socially useful work. Usually it is about communal and social work. The work is time-limited; it does not compete with other market activities, and the entitled receive a minimum fee.

At the beginning of September, Minister of Labour and Pension System Marko Pavić proudly stated that this Government had allocated more employment funds than ever before, and that this year they would invest 2.5 billion HRK in employment programs, including public works. But what exactly does this measure achieve?

As Mario Munta points out in a detailed analysis of the measure, this measure should by definition be reserved for the most long-term unemployed persons and groups of unemployed with the smallest prospects of finding a regular job. However, foreign and domestic evaluations are united in finding that participation in public works has no positive impact on employment after the measure, so that persons of similar characteristics who do not participate within the measure have even greater prospects of finding a job.

Over the past few years there has been a huge increase of those active in public works, of which 1,935 in 2009, up to 15,778 in 2013 and 10,662 in 2017. By number of users, public works can be measured only with those engaged in professional training without establishing a working relationship.

Munta warns of the worrying trend of ‘pushing’ young unemployed and middle-aged people into public works. When looking at coverage of those included in public works by the age groups of the unemployed, the trend of increasing coverage of public works within all age groups is noticed.

An additional aspect, at the outset mentioned at the beginning of this text, is the fact that much depends also on the territory of Croatia in which you live. In his research, Decentralization of Social Welfare and Social Inequality: The Case of Croatia, Zdenko Babić shows that social contributions are the largest in the most developed units, while lowest in the poorest, meaning that we cannot achieve any change without significant fiscal decentralization and the long-term use of state budget funds for deinstitutionalisation processes.

In essence, public works deepen the already unsafe position of people in the labour market and lead to institutionalization of precariousness – work on temporary and inadequate jobs, poor working conditions with unpredictable working time, poor pay and an uncertain future. Although they should not do so, it has been proved that the employers use public works as a substitute for their regular activities and users of public works as a cheaper substitute,” concludes Munta.

He precisely dissects the very essence of the problem – public works are ideal for ‘burning’ money, especially if grants for the implementation of measures come from the European Social Fund. These funds are easily absorbed and indirectly contribute to a positive impression on the utilization of European funds. In addition, there is an illusion of reducing unemployment, given that public works participants are registered as employed, although their prospects for remaining within the labour market after those 6 to 9 months are very uncertain.

It should also be noted that Anka Kekez survey was published earlier this year, pointing to the potential corrupt aspect of such measures – in the sphere of home help for the elderly and the disabled, malignant processes of concluding contracts with local and regional units have been noted and staff selection is based on the political key.

So there are many issues with public works. That is why it is particularly worrying that, when it comes to the Roma employment, this kind of employment is still put to the fore.

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