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Germany

The Low-Pay Way to Reenter the Job Market

One of Germany's controversial welfare reforms included one-euro jobs, designed to reintegrate the jobless into the labor market. Several young men in Bonn are hoping the program lifts them out of chronic unemployment.

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"I work willingly for one euro" reads the poster

The one-euro job program was part of the so-called Hartz IV package of welfare and labor market reforms enacted under the government of Gerhard Schröder. Its proponents say it is a way to get the unemployed, especially those who have been jobless for a long time, back into the habit of working. Reform opponents say it's nothing more than loan dumping. Harsher voices have equated it to a form of slave labor.

But several young men at a bike center at Bonn's main train station who are participating in the program hope the low-paying jobs gives them experience they can use as a stepping stone toward better jobs elsewhere.

"I've always had a weakness for bicycles," said Camill. "I once worked as a bike courier, but didn't earn much."

He and the others here have poor resumés, spotty employment records, only basic levels of education and often other social problems that have made it difficult for them to find or hold on to work.

"I've had an apprenticeship as a painter, but I had to quit because I had a lot of problems with drugs and things," said Leo.

Multiple problems

These men face a variety of challenges, says Erich Felten, the bike shop's manager. Many of them are in debt, don't have a stable place to live and their command of German can be poor. In the jargon of Germany's Federal Employment Agency, these people have "multiple challenges."

"The classic, critical point is basically a lack of reliability and punctuality," said Felton. "And these are key qualifications for an employer."

MIFA Fahrrad geht an die Börse

Some participants might end up working in bike factories, such as this one in Saxony-Anhalt

The Radstation is a parking garage and repair shop for bicycles. There are 320 parking places for commuters who ride their bikes in and then catch the train. In the basement, the men work in a workshop that does simple repairs: changing a bike chain, fixing a flat. Those who work here are primarily supposed to learn what it takes to hold down a job and how to meet challenges at the workplace.

"I enjoy learning all the technical things and tinkering around with the bikes," said Leo. "When something difficult comes up, then you have to think about how you can fix it, what kinds of tools you need to use."

Looking for other opportunities

For every hour spent with the bikes, Leo gets paid exactly one euro, in addition to his unemployment benefits. Participation in the project is limited to one year and a social worker also counsels those taking part-time work to look around for other job opportunities in the meantime, be that talking to tradesmen, looking for internships or filling out job applications. Camill has been looking since July. He applied for four jobs and got invited to one interview.

"That must mean I'm doing something right and it give me the courage to keep at it," he said.

Kreis Demmin hat zweihöchste Arbeitslosigkeit in Deutschland

Were it not for these kinds of programs, many youths would simply be hanging out

After the bike job, Camill has an internship as a painter and varnisher lined up and is hoping that he's find an apprenticeship by the summer.

The Radstation has employed about 250 since it was opened five years ago. About 20 percent of the new hires leave shortly after they start work. Of the rest, about half go on to get jobs or apprenticeships.

For some, life after the bike shop doesn't run as smoothly as hoped. Two-and-a-half years ago, David spent two months repairing bikes at the Radstation.

"I took a new job after that, but it didn't work out with the pay and I was unemployed again," he said. "Now I'm back here." His contract runs until August 1 and in the meantime he's looking for a traineeship program to begin in the fall, preferably as a mechanic. For him and many of these young men, something like that would be a dream come true.

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