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Whoever shouts loudly should be free

Whoever shouts loudly, should be free!

From time to time, the four major welfare companies, the “Arbeiterwohlfahrt” (AWO), the “Deutsche Caritasverband” (DC), the “Diakonische Werk” (DW) and the “Deutsche Paritätische Wohlfahrtsverband” (Joint), raise their voices on the effects of the Hartz IV legislation and precarious employment and demand improvements. In their own companies, however, they take advantage of the inhumane conditions for their employees to secure profit. At the same time, they prevent any resistance, self-organization or trade union organization of the employees in their ranks.

In February 1975, a news report shocked people in the Federal Republic: for the first time, the one million mark was exceeded by officially unemployed people. More specifically, 1,184,000 people were unemployed at the time. After the first shock, this was generally seen as a one-off slip-up as a result of the great economic crisis, which was mistakenly called the “oil crisis”. Then, in 1982, when the two million hurdle fell, everyone realized that this was a structural development that cannot be stopped overnight.

In many cities, people engaged in labour market and social policy gathered for demonstrations. In the Ruhr area cities, the issue of unemployment was discussed very widely, as many jobs in the “Blue Man area” were destroyed. Many of the people affected who had lost their jobs did not want to resign. They organised themselves and unemployment groups and initiatives emerged everywhere. Young people without work in particular joined forces to set up their own initiatives. The unemployed people wanted to take their fate into their own hands, to fight for work and social security, against social exclusion and defamation. This movement advocated understanding unemployment as a social problem and not blaming the unemployed people themselves for their situation.

The self-organization of affected people was not desired by the political actors in the municipalities at the time. Since the initiatives were denied to be able to defend their own interests, the churches first took over domestication and in the 1980s made work/unemployment their central theme. At the same time, they completely denied their employees the same rights in their own ranks, such as the right to strike and the possibility of participation, as is customary in the public service. Then the AWO followed the trend of the inclusion of the grassroots initiatives, in parallel with the joint, which did not have to muster much energy, since many “free initiatives” had chosen the joint as their umbrella organization.

Because of the over-embrace of the welfare groups, the unemployment initiatives have run out of steam, hardly any of the countless groups in the 1980s have survived. In the meantime, the self-organised unemployment centres have also disappeared or changed hands under the auspices of the welfare companies. Thus, over the years, we have managed to nip in the bud any beginnings of self-organization and independent articulation of the unemployed people.

When the normal working relationship, under the influence of neoliberalism, gradually dissolved with the slogans of “liberalisation, flexibility and deregulation”, atypical, precarious, temporary, temporary and forced part-time employment took the place, the employees and their families could no longer have sufficient income and no longer had the necessary labour and social protection to be able to defend themselves individually. At the same time, the welfare groups have grown enormously and have developed into job engines. For them, the Hartz legislation came as a gift from heaven to spin off parts of the business, to develop new branches with “purpose companies” and to take care of all precarious employment relationships, as well as the job opportunities (AGH/1€-Jobbs).

Two of these employment relationships are considered in more detail below:

For decades, the slaves worked as part of training courses and 1€ jobbers

Since the 1990s, welfare companies and their newly established employment and action enterprises have been entering the labour market and are taking advantage of long-term unemployed people in the well-supported measures.

The people in the measures are deliberately kept away from the first labour market, also because they are well-integrated full-fledged workers for the measure-bearer and provide profit in the so-called special-purpose enterprises. Since they are not legally employed, they do not have any rights arising from a regular normal employment relationship.

They are at the mercy of the penalty possibilities of the job centres laid down in the Social Code and thus these measures violate several articles of the Basic Law, such as the right to physical integrity, freedom of occupation or the right of association.

Whoever shouts loudly, should be free!

It is no wonder that no one really wants to change the previous support practice and is glad that these workers cannot move to the first labour market, because they simply lack the jobs and are denied unemployment benefit 1.

In order for everything to continue, the decision-makers and appointees have often joined forces as superior associations. The members of the Community have agreed that they will devote themselves to ‘co-opting’ in a manner satisfactory to all member organisations and to coordinate new measures by the employment services at the planning stage.

The whole thing is a fairly closed system in which public funds are shifted and used illegally.

Social labour market: with the “Participation Opportunities Act”

On 1 January 2019, the ‘Participation Opportunities Act’ (THCG) came into force. The Federal Government provided EUR 4 billion to subsidise wage costs for companies offering jobs subject to social security contributions for the long-term unemployed. Without any discussion of labour market and social policy, the new law has made a major change in labour market policy. Recently, state-sponsored employment is open to all forms of economic organisation, including domestic private companies and groups.

The state pays companies 100 percent of the minimum or collective wage for the first two years of employment subject to social security contributions, and 90, 80 and 70 percent of the minimum or collective wage in the following three years. The criteria such as additionality, public interest and neutrality of competition have been overturned, which until now restricted assisted employment only in social and public institutions.

Around 800,000 unemployed people are expected to take up employment through this programme, thus further expanding the low-wage sector so that German companies can continue to dominate the world market.

For charities, this is a new, very effective way to keep their “purpose businesses” running.

The law provides in detail that:

and that the employees are still under the thumb of the job centres. As this is a labour market policy measure, they are subject not only to their companies but also to the “support” provided by the job centres throughout the period.

Sanctions can also apply here

Paragraph 31 of the SGB II stipulates under the term “duty violations” that long-term unemployed people can be sanctioned by the Jobcentre if, for example, they do not accept or interrupt a measure. Any refusal is followed by the sanctioning by the job centres. This can lead to people no longer receiving income at all, depending on how much percentage is removed from the current salary.

Sanction is always punishment and legitimacy at the same time. One thing is being punished and the other is that people have the right to do so. Without sanctions, the Hartz IV system would lose its effectiveness and deterrence as a means of reducing wages.

Freedom of occupation guaranteed by the Basic Law is undermined

The freedom to work guaranteed by the Basic Law is also affected when people are forced to accept any work, employment or measure. The aspect of the freedom to practise guaranteed by the Basic Law has almost never played a role in the discussions on sanctions mechanisms that have been going on for years. The people who are in hartz IV are constantly under pressure from possible sanctions, because any jobcenter placement proposal can be an “unsustainable offer”.

They do not have the freedom to choose a career. The SGB II provision of Section 10 (2) is applied here. According to this provision, any jobless person is reasonable and can only refuse job offers in exceptional ways, e.g. only because of special physical requirements or because of the danger to the child’s education. Explicitly not an “important reason” for rejecting a placement offer should be that the “working conditions are less favourable” than the conditions of the previous employment relationship. This is the lever used to force workers into the low-wage sector under government coercion.

State-subsidised temporary agency work

What is also new about the Participation Opportunities Act is that temporary employment agencies are not excluded as beneficiaries. The industry, which is already the largest buyer of long-term unemployed people and a beneficiary of Agenda 2010, drummed the law the loudest. The ‘Interest Association of German Temporary Employment Companies e.V.’ (IGZ) already offers seminars and publishes a brochure to provide its members with instructions on how to exploit the new funding pot. Because the new law makes the dreams of this industry come true. From now on, you can hire a person for 24 months, have the full wage costs paid by the state and collect the money they receive for the award of the employees as a profit. The temporary worker is not even allowed to cancel, as he is then threatened with sanctions from the job centre.

The dreams of the charities are now coming true, too, many of their long-standing “program staff” can continue to perform their services without a large share of their own.