German jobless face cut in welfare

Germany's sweeping welfare reforms have gone into effect as labour offices cut payments for a million jobless and qualifying tests got tougher.

    Virtually none of the planned protests actually happened

    Threatened mass protests to oppose the most far-reaching welfare reforms in a generation failed to materialise on Monday - the first day of the new, lower payments. 
       
    About 300 protesters tried to enter the main jobs centre in central Berlin but police blocked their path.
       
    "The turnout is a bit disappointing but when people start realising the impact of this then they will come out," unemployed protester 50-year-old Detlef Stuye said.
       
    The reforms are intended to help halve unemployment by 2010 but in the short-term they are expected to actually increase the jobless to close to five million. In November, 4.64 million Germans were out of work, roughly 10.8% of the work force.
       
    Demonstrators had threatened to storm labour offices in 55 cities. Many job centres hired security guards to protect staff, and police have trained employees on how to handle angry recipients.
       
    But officials said there were no signs of problems on Monday morning. 
       
    Under control

    Deputy chief of the Federal Labour Office, Heinrich Alt, said: "Things appear to be going fairly smoothly." He said he expected, on average, 15,000 fewer jobless this year. He based the estimate on economic growth of 1.75%.
       
    Municipal authorities said in a statement: "Even if there are problems to overcome in the home-stretch, everyone will be able to get their money today."
       
    Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who made the reforms the cornerstone of his policies, has insisted he will not scale back the measures, a stance that initially sent his popularity into a tailspin over fears he was destroying the welfare state.
       
    But Schroeder has since seen his standing surge because of his steadfast refusal to bow to pressure from the left wing of his Social Democrat party and complaints from those who stand to lose state support if they refuse jobs.
       
    Data released by the Federal Statistics Office on Monday showed employment posted its first increase in three years in 2004, boosted by government measures to help the unemployed back to work.

    SOURCE: Reuters


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