Unemployment Insurance Sanctions:
Withdrawals of Benefits reached a new hight in 2013!
Active Unemployed Austria demand an end to structured force through human rights violating sanctions
(Vienna /Graz, February 4th 2014) Rising unemployment also means rising preasure on unemployed: After a slight easing in 2012, the number of existence threatening withdrawals of benefits have again risen to a new record hight. The work agency AMS („Arbeitsmarktservice“ imposed 105,295 withdrawals of benefit, which is 6,394 or 6.5% withdrawals more than in the previous year. The number of suspensions sank slightly from 302 to 295 cases per 1,000 unemployed and is almost at level with the notorious Hartz Germany (308 suspensions per 1000 Hartz IV receipients 2012)! Contrary to Hartz IV, the suspensions in Austria are all 100%
Most sanctions were imposed because of missed control dates: 56,054 withdrawals of benefits (+1,177 or +2.1%), followed by 33,078 withdrawals of one month due to termination of employment by oneself (+5,628 or +20.5%) and 15,816 withdrawals of either 6 or 8 weeks due to alleged avertion of a job offer assigned to by AMS or a compulsory measure of AMS ( 551 or -3.4%). Complete withdrawal of benefits due to an alleged general unwillingness to work in accordance to § 9 AIVG has risen sharply by 67.6% from 207 to 347 cases, adnittedly from a somewhat low base.
The highest increase in the number of suspensions were in Styria with plus 14.6%, followed by Carinthia with plus 13.6% and Upper Austria with plus 9.7%. Projected at the number of unemployed, the steepest increase was plus 7.4% in Vorarlberg, followed by Styria with plus 5.2% and Carintia with plus 1.7%, the highest reductions were in Burgenland with -10.3% and Vienna with -8.9%. Suspensions are, however, quite different: AMS Vorarlberg suspends most often with 390 suspensions per 1000 unemployed and Upper Austria with 388 suspensions per 1000 unemployed. In Styria suspensions are lowest with 245 per 1000 unemployed.
In the long view, preasure on unemployed rose stedily with increase in broad unemployment: in the year 2000 only 250 suspensions per 1000 unemployed were imposed, while a preliminary high was in 2008 and 2011 with 336 and 335 suspensions respectively. That means, the repressive politics of the conservative–liberal coalition of the Minister for Economy Martin Bartenstein (ÖVP - Austrian Peoples Party) – who was responsible for the AMS then – was not only continued, but even tightened under the Minister for Social Affairs Rudolf Hundstorfer (SPÖ - Social Democratic Party)!
Sanctions are seriously arbitrary
Closer analysis of the way suspensions are imposed show clear differences: The range (Difference in percentage between lowest and highest value) across all reasons for suspensions nationwide is moderate with 63%. The range of suspensions becomes clearly greater once the reasons for suspensions are taken into consideration, which suggests quite a different and herewith arbitrary imposition of sanctions.
The range of suspensions because of aleged „avertion“ of work offers or courses are whopping 350% (Carinthia 18 suspensions p.T. / Vorarlberg 81 p.T.), which means that in Vorarlberg suspensions are imposed 4.5 times more often than in Carinthia! The range of suspensions because of termination of employment by oneself is approx. 240% (Vienna 54 suspensions p.T. / Vorarlberg 184 p.T.) and because of missed appointments approx. 180% (Styria 79 suspensions p.T. / Upper Austria 221 p.T.). Vorarlberg is indeed „exceptional“ as suspensions due to termination of employment by oneself, where the reason can least be influenced by AMS, differ most and without Vorarlberg the range would sink from 240% to 137%.
This impression of arbitrary handling is also evident when looking at the events in a timely dimension: The curves of suspensions due to termination by oneself are somewhat parallel in the various counties, though the ranking differs seldom. It is evident that suspensions due to § 10, which are largely influenced by suspensions because of avertion of compulsory AMS-measures, show great differences in ratios and ranking that follow more likely the political situation rather than the conditions on the labour market.
Sanctions are often imposed arbitrarilly, which not only corresponds to our experience gained from consultation of over 1,000 unemployed but also to the fact that so far approx. 30% of the appeals are granted even though the responsible AMS-district-office, the supervisors of the culprits, decided on the appeals.
Battle against illegal withdrawals of benefits: Mission Impossible?
The fundamental issue is that the practice of sanctions by the AMS is incompatible with a democratic state ruled by law: The benefit and herewith the fundation of existence is cut upon sheer suspicion without the accused has any opportunity to comment („Right to be heard“).
The unemployed are not informed about their right, such as the application by submitting evidence or the possibility to obtain „Mindestsicherung“ reduced by 25% during a suspension. Unemployed do not have legal aid. Even in the case of an appeal, legal aid is not available. Only at the Verwaltungsgerichtshof legal aid is available, however a „ban on new evidence“ prohibits the submission of such evidence and facts that suspended unemployed were not able to submit due to lack of legal knowledge or withdrawal of the fundation of existence. Unemployed without legal protection insurance or financial reserves are at the mercy of the AMS bureaucracy!
As a result, such abandoned people fight for their rights not very often: In average, only 3% of the unemployed appeal against AMS-suspensions, as many as 13% appeal against sanctions because of „avertion“ of a course or employment offer and 9% appeal against the withdrawal of benefits due to the claim of general unwillingness to work. As the period for appeal is an infuriatingly short 2 weeks, not much time is left to gain legal advice and solicit aid.
In a year only approx. 30 unemployed seek the decision of the Verwaltungsgericht. This is about 1.5% of those that were unsuccessful on appeal or 0.03% of all suspended. Three quarter come from Vienna, those living in a county do practically not go as far as the Verwaltungsgerichtshof. The ratio of success is here some 30% too, that means: only 0.01% of the suspensions are corrected by the Higher Administrative Court!
International research confirms:
Suspensions have no effect and produce a greater damage than benefit
It is noticeable that there is no independent and critical analysis of effects of suspensions even though numerous new studies from Germany and the UK confirm a very destructive effect of suspensions and come to the same conclusions. The myths cited by politicians, that people only look for work if threatened by punishment and therefore sanctions are mandatorilly nacessary, reveals pure ideology to cover up real distribution of rule and force.
- Sanctions are without effect: The requirement of work is not really reduced, neither does it lead to an improvement in cooperation with the agency, nor a „convergence to the labour market“; and not at all does the likelihood to accept work increase.
- Sanctions are a financial burden and lead to a clan liability: Social emergencies are worsened and prolonged by new debt. The family has to pay primarilly, children suffer especially.
- Sanctions damage health and social integration: Health burdens as a result of deterorating mental wellbeing: sleep disturbance and depressions as well as psychosomatic problems (diarrhoea, anxiety, ...) are common effects. Withdrawals of benefits can also lead to permanent health problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder. The need to save money lead even more to social isolation and to withdrawal from society.
- Sanctions affect the wrong ones, namely badly educated, who are not familiar with proceedings and can, therefore, least defend themselves. People who are affected by a traumatic experience in their childhood or in a previous work are especially often demoralized and further affected by sanctions.
- Sanctions destroy incentives to perform of – often party affine – course industry. People, who live in permanent fear of sanctions, do not dare to demand their rights. The unemployed can so be assigned to AMS-compulsory measures easily, which do fundamentally not fit or simply are of bad quality and serve more the distortion of statistics rather than truly help.
- And most of all: Sanctions do not create the more than 500,000 jobs that are missing. Sanctions therefore undermine the human right for free choice of work as the UN has criticised Austria already in November 2013.
Get rid of the human rights violating regime of sanctions!
The regime of sanctions, which was traditinally always repressive in Austria, is obviously supposed to hide the failure of politics to provide sufficient jobs that are fairly paid and correspond to the capabilities and interests of the people. With the regime of sanctions, politics turn the fundamental human right of freely chosen work into a duty to accept work for any price, even precarious part time work that does not ensure the fundamental existence, and to continously look for work even if health restrictions like for instance (partial) invalidity do not allow any chance for success. This permanent pressure is a form of massive structural force and makes people made jobless all the more sick and unfit to work.
People, that have contributed to unemployment insurance for years are treated like immature slaves and deprived of their rights by an often arbatrarilly working bureaucracy and have their human dignity severely violated. As the AMS imposes the withdrawal of benefits through sheer suspicion, we have in fact a Kafkaesque reversal of the burden of proof: The accused has to proof to be innocent in order to secure his existence.
As first step on the way toward complete abolition of the human rights violating sanctions Active Unemployed Austria therefore demand the implementation of minimal standards that conform to human rights and the rule of law:
- No sanctions below the minimum necessary for existence, full recognition of duties for care of children!
- No preliminary withdrawals of benefits solely based on suspition without having conducted a proper process of investigation with consultation of the accused person (right to be heard).
- Provide the unemployed full and correct information about their rights
- Legal aid to challenge withdrawals of benefits and appeals to the courts of justice.
- Extention of the period for appeal to 3 months
- Implementation of an advocacy of unemployed as agency for representation and law enforcement for unemployed
- Independent and critical evaluation of the regime of sanctions
Annex 1: Types and duration of sanctions
§ 9 AIVG: „general unwillingness to work“: Is imposed if an unemployed refuses to accept work in general or only in certain areas or if the unemployed had the benefit withdrawn three times. The locked out person then has to proof to the AMS to be „willing to work“ again.
§ 10 AIVG: „Avertion“: A withdrawal of benefits of 6 weeks is imposed, as from the secont ocurrence 8 weeks, if someone „averts“ – in the opinion of the AMS – a referred job offer or an AMS comulsory measure or – in the opinion of the AMS – does not show sufficient own initiative („applications by oneself“).
§ 11 AIVG: „Termination of employment by the employee“: A withdrawal of benefit of 1 month is imposed if an employment is terminated by the employee without the AMS noticing any legally recognized reasons, or if the employment is terminated without notice.
§ 49 AIVG: „Missed Control Appointment“: If a control appointment with the AMS is missed, benefits are interrupted until a personal appearance at the AMS.
Annex 2: Studies on Effects of sanctions on unemployed (small, up-to-date selection)
- Ames Anne: Ursachen und Auswirkungen von Sanktionen nach § 31 SGB II. Hans Böckler Stiftung, Düsseldorf 2009.
- Apel Helmut Apel, Engels Dietrich: Unabhängige wissenschaftliche Untersuchung zur Erforschung der Ursachen und Auswirkungen von Sanktionen nach § 31 SGB 11 und nach dem SGB 111 in NRW. ISG Institut für Sozialforschung und Gesellschaftspolitik GmbH, Köln 2013
- Grießmeier Nicolas: Der disziplinierende Staat. Kleine Verlag, Grünwald 2012
- Grießmeier Nicolas: Explorationsstudie zu Auswirkungen von Totalsanktionen bei Arbeitslosengeld 2-Empfängern.
- Manchaster CAB Service: Punishing Poverty? A review of benefits sanctions and their impacts on clients and claimants. London 2013
- Müller Kai-Uwe, Oschmiansky Frank: Die Sanktionspolitik der Arbeitsagenturen nach den „Hartz“-Reformen. Auswirkungen des „Ersten Gesetzes für moderne Dienstleistungen am Arbeitsmarkt“. Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin für Sozialforschung (WZB), Berlin 2006. http://skylla.wzb.eu/pdf/2006/i06-116.pdf
- Kumpmann Ingmar: Im Fokus: Sanktionen gegen Hartz-IV-Empfänger: Zielgenaue Disziplinierung oder allgemeine Drohkulisse? In: Wirtschaft im Wandel 6/2009, Seite 236 – 239.
- Schneider Julia: The Effect of Unemployment Benefit II Sanctions on Reservation Wages, IAB Discussion Paper 19/2008,
- Wagner Thomas: Wer nicht hören will, muss fühlen! Fachhochschule Düsseldorf, 2010.
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