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Jobs Fiasco Puzzles Germany

The government has yet to place blame for administrative bungling at the Federal Labour Office, in a fiasco that lays bare the feebleness of its job-placement programmes.

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Spanking for the labour minister, parodied as a carnival fool

It really could not look much worse.

Gerhard Schröder’s government, keen to defend its record on unemployment, blames a global economic downturn for rising joblessness. The state, Schröder asserts, is doing what it can in difficult times. The political pressure intensifies, and then comes a bombshell: state auditors reveal wild administrative mismanagement at the Federal Labour Office.

For all the wrongly and falsely-filed papers, it is now almost impossible to tell what the office has actually been up to all these years. The scale of this fiasco transcends mere embarrassment.

According to the auditors’ report, 70 percent of the job placement statistics reported at five local employment offices were either improperly filed or downright false. Now, according to a report in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, and internal labour office investigation of 15 offices shows a similar mess, with only 30 percent of the files appearing proper and a full third of them "simply incorrect".

Among the allegations are that offices inflated job-creation figures by reporting "finds" for anyone and everyone who found a position, no matter how temporary. Some "finds" were reportedly recorded even for students who took temporary jobs as musicians or Santa Clauses during the Christmas season.

Yet Bernhard Jagoda, president of the Federal Labour Office and a Christian Democrat, has yet to face a penalty. Walter Riester, the Social Democratic labour minister, who many expected would lash out against his political rival, has so far withheld judgement, perhaps because the political consequences are potentially giant.

Jittery labour market

What this means for Germany’s labour market, it is too early to say. The usefulness of job training programmes is a perennial matter of debate, and federal unemployment statistics are probably more accurate overall than those of the local labour offices.

But the auditors’ revelations have sharpened what already was a sharp focus on the unemployment issue, and the state’s degree of responsibility.

Things don’t look good. Big and successful, state officials call their job training programmes, but officials cannot report with confidence that the 360 million euros lately spent on job training has led even one unemployed worker to a new job, Deutsche Welle’s Made in Germany reports.

Moreover, there is widespread anecdotal evidence – even apart from the in-house investigation – that the schemes look better on paper than in reality.

Case by case

Individuals within the job-training system openly describe how they cover up the uselessness of certain classes when inspectors drop by.

Meanwhile, "students" who have graduated from 12-week classes report that some of the skills they learn are useless.

In the city of Darmstadt, 200 unemployed workers have been trained to drive forklifts, but there are no positions open for fork-lifters there. "I’m still out of work," says Helmut Angelbeck. "I’ve got a certificate that I can hang on my office wall, and I’ve got this driving license to show the trade association."

Frank Rentschler, who graduated from a class in Marburg, says his communications course instructor offered training in "karaoke". It consisted of sing-along sessions with a compact disc of ABBA, the defunct superstar Swedish rockers famous for crooning: "Money, money, money... It’s a rich man’s world." Indeed.

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