Obligatory training for unemployed persons, Malta
Over the last number of years, the Employment and Training Corporation (ETC) undertook a variety of initiatives to identify abuse of the social security system and reduce the incidence of undeclared work. In particular, ETC found that compulsory courses for unemployed people can serve as an early warning signal to identify abusers of the system who register for work and receive unemployment benefits while also working in the informal economy.
The Employment and Training Corporation (ETC) is Malta’s public employment services organisation. As part of its services to job seekers, it keeps a register of unemployed persons who through this registration process may also be entitled to certain benefits. ETC provides a wide range of training courses to these clients, some of which are compulsory. It also receives notice of a number of job vacancies arising in the public and private sectors and tries to fill these vacancies from the list of unemployed persons registering for work.
The above initiatives are coordinated by the employment advisers, ETC’s training section which organises courses and ETC’s records section. In the case of being struck off the unemployment register, the Department of Social Security is also involved in order to withdraw the benefits.
In recent years, ETC undertook a number of initiatives, which indirectly may discourage and curb undeclared work. One of these initiatives entailed stricter enforcement of the requirement for persons to attend compulsory training courses assigned to them by their employment adviser. It is normally assumed that persons registering for work will have better prospects of finding a job if they also upgrade their skills through training programmes. For this reason, persons who arbitrarily refute training opportunities or who do not attend their assigned training courses without a valid justification will be struck off the unemployment register.
An unemployed person is assigned to an employment adviser who normally meets the person with the aim of drawing up a Personalised Action Plan (PAP). Among other things, this plan identifies the training needs of clients including basic and compulsory courses such as literacy courses in cases where the client is illiterate. New registrants are also obliged to attend job search skills courses and job clubs to help them find a job. Clients are expected to attend the compulsory training assigned to them, and if they fail to do so, they are required to fill out an objection form giving the reasons for their absence from training. This form is scrutinised by a board, which then takes a final decision on whether the reasons presented by the client justify their absence from the training course. If the justification is deemed invalid, the client is automatically struck off the unemployment register with the consequence that related benefits may be withdrawn. The client can appeal to the National Employment Authority and can be reinstated on the register if their appeal is upheld.
Evaluation and outcome
Achievement of objectives
Compulsory training is intended to give unemployed people better prospects of finding a job. However, failing to attend training is the first indication that the client may actually be working and is not really interested in improving his or her job-related skills. Hence, the stricter scrutiny on those who fail to attend training courses will help identify such abusers of the system at an early stage. Clients who fail to attend their assigned training have to complete a form explaining their absence and produce evidence to justify their absence. This procedure in itself should encourage more unemployed people to attend their courses and will make it more difficult for those who abuse the system.
Obstacles and problems
Long-term unemployed persons who abuse the system often manage to find ways of evading the system by, for example, producing sickness certificates to cover their absence from training. However, if repeated excuses are noted, the person may still be struck off the unemployment register. The client may appeal this decision and may be reinstated on the unemployment register by the National Employment Authority.
Clear procedures are necessary to identify and track persons who fail to attend the required training courses. To make the process fair, it is also necessary to allow a person to explain and give valid justifications for not attending a specified training course. This has to be done through a formal procedure, which makes it easier for employment advisers to tag those persons as absent. Finally, the decision to strike a person off the unemployment register should not fall on the employment adviser but the onus of further investigation is best passed on to a board which scrutinises matters and makes a final decision in individual cases.
Between October 2006 and September 2007, the number of persons who did not attend obligatory training courses amounted to 528.
Compulsory training for unemployed persons receiving benefits is important to the clients themselves in order to enhance their chances of finding a job. It may also indirectly discourage undeclared work in that the unemployed people will be obliged to attend compulsory training courses and to justify their absence in writing by filling in the required forms. Repeated and unjustified absence from training courses can result in the loss of benefits for the client.
Unemployed persons in Malta can continue to receive unemployment benefits and social assistance for an unspecified number of years as long as they continue to appear on the unemployment register. Thus, compulsory training courses may be a more effective way of curbing abuse of the system among young registrants than among long-term unemployed persons. This is because young registrants have to attend more obligatory courses, such as job search and job club courses, as well as literacy courses if they are also illiterate. Tackling cases of undeclared work among long-term unemployed people requires different measures and obligatory courses alone may not be so effective in the long run with this category of unemployed persons.
Raphael Scerri, Employment Services Manager, Employment and Training Corporation
Anna Borg, Employment and Training Corporation (ETC)