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Centre, NCP MPs signal possible changes to contested unemployment benefit rule

Centre Party MP Antti Kaikkonen said the government's new activation model — which cuts unemployment benefits if jobseekers don't find work — could be changed.

Kansanedustajat Antti Kaikkonen (vas.) ja Kimmo Tiilikainen vuoden viimeisessä täysistunnossa eduskunnassa Helsingissä 20. joulukuuta 2017.
Centre Party parliamentary group chair Antti Kaikkonen. Image: Heikki Saukkomaa / Lehtikuva

A prominent Centre Party MP has joined the snowballing debate about controversial new rules intended to get unemployed jobseekers to be more active seeking work.

Centre Party parliamentary group chair Antti Kaikkonen said Wednesday that the party will be closely monitoring the new activation model, which will cut unemployment benefits by nearly five percent if jobseekers do not meet certain conditions in a 65-day period.

"If it appears that there are shortcomings in the model, then in that case they would have to be addressed," Kaikkonen said.

Kaikkonen went on to say that the new regulations that came into force at the beginning of the year could be problematic in areas where employment prospects are particularly poor.

Problematic in some regions

"I think it would mainly be problematic in areas or municipalities where employment opportunities are very poor and funding for employment services or training is not available. In such cases the model would encounter challenges and unemployed persons would face challenges," he expanded.

According to Kaikkonen if such situations were to arise, then government would have to consider whether to adjust the regulations.

"In other words if it can be said that an unemployed person cannot reasonably find work or services in the area then in that case we would have to modify and improve the active model from its current status," he added.

However the parliamentary group chair stopped short of criticising the government, saying instead that he wanted to remind the government of parliamentary oversight.

He added that the parliament required close monitoring of the impact of the activation model and if necessary, expanded measures to fulfil the model’s criteria, to ensure that persons who actively seek work or try to access training don’t end up having their unemployment benefits cut.

NCP Minister: Resources may need beefing up

Appearing on Yle’s A-Studio Wednesday evening, Foreign Trade and Development Minister Kai Mykkänen said the goal of the measure is to create pressure on the unemployed to find work. It should also prompt employment offices to organise so-called activation courses.

"Unfortunately there are tens of thousands who have become passive. From the perspective of their future, it’s now important to find even short-term placements, training, entrepreneurship training so that they can gradually find work elsewhere," Mykkänen explained.

Story continues after photo.

Kai Mykkänen ja Martin-Éric Racine.
NCP Minister Kai Mykkänen and citizen's initiative architect Martin-Éric Racine faced off on Yle's A-Studio Wednesday evening. Image: Yle

Martin-Éric Racine, the unemployed architect of a citizen’s initiative to reverse the legislative change, said that in his view, it’s not the unemployed who need to be activated, but employers, to ensure they also offer work to the long-term unemployed.

"You don’t get jobs by applying. All open positions go to people who are changing workplaces or the recently-graduated. If someone has been out of work for more than two years, then they completely fall off the train," Racine declared.

The activist said that only a small number of unemployed persons would be able to secure the 18-hour work gigs required by the new law. He attributed this to the inconvenience employers would face trying to organise such short-term placements. Many kinds of work require permits, orientation and training. He noted that an employer would hardly be likely to go to those lengths for a short-term posting.

Denmark model

However Mykkänen countered that the activation measures would make it easier to hire precisely long-term unemployed people. He said for example, that it would now be easier to create fixed-term contracts and probation periods would lengthen.

The government has cited the success of even more stringent activation measures in reducing long-term unemployment in Denmark. However while on average an employment official in Denmark manages 12 clients, in Finland each official has to help 166 people find work. Critics have said that employment services lack sufficient resources to implement the model.

"If it seems that the employment office services cannot fulfil their roles, then it will be necessary to examine whether we need or are able to assign more resources," Mykkänen commented.

The minister did not want to speculate how much additional funding would be required to beef up resources at local employment offices.

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