The Catalan Government presents an action plan to fight unemployment
The Catalan Minister for Business and Employment has stressed that the Government’s objective is to reduce unemployment by half by 2014. The plan foresees ten measures, with a special focus on the long-term unemployed. Some of the measures include incentives to SME companies to hire the long-term unemployed, collaborating with private temporary work agencies, enlarging the network of education classrooms and relocating staff from the Catalan Public Employment Service to provide job search council and other direct services.
Barcelona (ACN).- The Catalan Government announced on Tuesday, after the weekly cabinet meeting, the launch of an action plan to fight unemployment. The plan was presented by the Catalan Minister for Business and Employment, Francesc Xavier Mena, who insisted that the Government’s objective is to reduce unemployment in Catalonia by half by 2014. Catalonia ended September with 600,930 unemployed people, according to the Spanish Ministry of Employment. The unemployment rate in Catalonia stood at 18.1% at the end of July (the last official figure). Despite being three percentage points below the Spanish average, unemployment remains very high in Catalonia and is one of its main economic and social problems, as well as the main concern among the Catalan people. Therefore, the reduction in the unemployment rate is one of the main priorities of the Catalan Government. Mena presented an action plan with ten main points. The plan puts a special focus on the long-term unemployed, with a specific budget of 60 million euros. The Catalan Government will spend 1,000 euros in active policies for each of the 60,000 long-term unemployed people whose benefits have run out. In addition, the plan foresees incentives for companies with less than 25 workers to hire the long-term unemployed. Mena said the plan is “urgent and extraordinary”, whose aim is “to fight in the short-term the social deadweight of unemployment”. “With this road plan we will address the entire economy and improve the employment rate, even at better levels than other European countries”, stated Mena.
The Catalan action plan to create employment is structured on ten main measures. One of them is based on an agreement signed between the Catalan and the Spanish Public Employment Services, which was approved on Tuesday by the Catalan Government. With the new agreement, staff from the Catalan Public Employment Service (SOC) freed from managing the unemployment subsidies, a service in the hands of the Spanish State but that Catalonia started to provide to speed up the process. According to the new agreement, SOC staff will focus on active employment policies, such as providing council to job seekers. This way, the network of SOC offices will be particularly focused on assisting job seekers, instead of managing unemployment subsidies.
More than 250 councillors will assist the long-term unemployed who are facing their last 6 months of benefits. They will be working in the 70 branches of the SOC throughout Catalonia. They will assist job seekers in defining a plan to strengthen their links with the labour market and increase their employability and skills.
More education for job seekers
The existing network of classrooms offering courses to job seekers will be enlarged. More courses on information and communication technologies will be offered. The objective is to strengthen job seeker’s IT skills, to ease their job search. Special councillors will be assisting people in this issue.
Another measure is offering loans with a zero interest rate to enrol in post-graduate university courses, including masters and PhDs. This measure is aimed at highly-qualified unemployed people. Loans will range from 1,000 euros to 18,000. Smaller quantities will have to be refunded after four years and quantities below 2,000 euros are to be returned after 6 years.
The Government will offer free Catalan language courses to foreign job seekers who do not know Catalan, one of the two official languages in Catalonia. “Regarding newcomers, not knowing the Catalan language represents an obstacle to access specific jobs”, explained Mena to justify the measure. Most of the newcomers only know Spanish, and thus they are in a clear disadvantage with most of the local population as they only know one of the two official languages in Catalonia.
The Government’s action plan includes a framework agreement to ease the work of private temporary work agencies. For the first time, temporary work agencies will cooperate with the Catalan Public Employment Service offering several services to the people with the greatest difficulties of job insertion. The General Worker’s Union (UGT) particularly criticised this measure, for “privatising” part of the Catalan Public Employment Services.
Measures for long-term unemployed people
Another measure is offering financial incentives for companies smaller than 25 employees to hire people unemployed for more than 12 months, whose benefits have finished and who have participated in SOC’s courses. The companies targeted belong to the retail sector, the catering and the tourism sectors. Companies hiring a person for one month will receive 600 euros, 1.300 euros for two months and 2,100 for three months.
Besides, the Government will assist town halls in funding local employment plans aimed at the long-term unemployed without the dole. This measure will be active between November 2011 and April 2012.
Measures at local level
In addition to the assistance to town halls, the Catalan Government aims to improve social conditions in specific neighbourhoods with high unemployment rates. The Government will reformulate the so-called Neighbourhoods Law, which was designed to regenerate impoverished urban areas throughout Catalonia. The plan aims to raise qualifications, employability and hiring rates of people with social insertion difficulties. 30 million euros will be allocated, affecting 143 neighbourhoods from 117 municipalities until December 2012.
Working with NGOs
Specific employment plans will be designed to non-profit organisations for hiring unemployed people whose subsidies have finished. They will be hired to participate in projects performing social and general interest works. In addition, non-profit organisations will participate in civic and social activities for unemployed people on the dole or who are receiving other subsidies.