New legislation on 'social employment' in force

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In April 2003, a new law on 'social employment' came into force in Poland, aimed at providing support and employment to up to the country's large number of people faced with social exclusion, such as long-term unemployed people, alcoholics and drug addicts, former prisoners, and people with mental illnesses. The legislation sets up social integration centres to provide assistance and integration programmes, and creates a system of subsidised employment to encourage employers to take on people from the target groups.

According to estimates by the Ministry of the Economy, Labour and Social Policy (Ministerstwo Gospodarki, Pracy i Polityki Społecznej, MGPIPS), between 500,000 and 3 million people require various forms of support in terms of income, social integration and employment. This group includes people under the threat of, or already subject to, social exclusion, who due to their situation are unable to earn their living, suffer poverty and cannot fully participate in work, social and family life. A new Law on Social Employment, which came into force following parliamentary adoption in April 2003, applies to such people who have no income and are not entitled to unemployment allowance (PL0210107F), pre-retirement allowance or benefit (PL0211108F), or social, structural, incapacity or retirement pensions.

Groups covered

The new legislation applies to the following groups:

  • homeless people seeking to find a home;
  • alcoholics who have completed a psychotherapy programme;
  • drug addicts who have completed a therapeutic programme;
  • people with a mental illness;
  • people who have been unemployed for at least 36 months;
  • former prisoners experiencing difficulties in integration; and
  • refugees undertaking an individual integration programme.

These groups of people will be subject to the Law on Social Employment - ie they will be able to participate in the courses run by social integration centres and clubs, and take part in the programme of subsidised employment.

Social integration centres

The new legislation provides that social integration centres will help with the social and occupational reintegration of the target groups by: developing the skills required to participate in society and achieve a certain social status; providing vocational training and helping to enhance vocational skills; helping update or improve qualifications; and teaching the skills required for people to plan their lives, become independent and manage their own finances. The centres will achieve these goals by starting a production activity (with the exception of certain goods, such as alcohol) or pursuing trading or services activities. Their initiatives will not be considered as a typical economic activity, and thus tax regulations will not be binding.

The centres can be established by 'voits' (the administrator of a group of villages), mayors, city presidents and 'public benefit' organisations. They may be financed by a number of concurrent sources, principally the resources of municipalities (gminas) earmarked for the implementation of local programmes dealing with problems such as alcoholism, while additional financing can be obtained from the centres' own economic activities. Social integration centres established by a public benefit organisation may be financed by the resources of the establishing institution (fund-raising, grants etc) or other municipal revenues. Moreover, the social integration centres may receive extra financing from the Labour Fund (Fundusz Pracy) (PL0212106F) and the State Fund for the Rehabilitation of People with Disabilities (Państwowy fundusz Rehabilitacji Osób Niepełnosprawnych, PFRON), for the implementation of special programmes aimed at social and occupational reintegration.

The centres’ personnel will consist mainly of people running courses in social and occupational reintegration, social workers and instructors in specific occupations.

Participation in social integration centre courses

People willing to participate in the new social employment programme can be referred to a social integration centre: at their own volition; at the request of a detoxification clinic, or a provincial (poviat) family support centre, labour office or social welfare centre (in each of these cases the decision must be approved of by the person concerned); or at the request of a social welfare centre.

A social integration centre can accept candidates only if they endorse an individual programme of social employment, prepared by one of the centre’s social workers. This programme will usually set out the details of the social and occupational reintegration, the nature of the skills required for the job concerned, and the ways in which the individual's qualifications will be improved. A programme lasts for up to 11 months. First, participants are admitted for a trial period of one month, during which they receive an integration benefit amounting to one half of the unemployment allowance. If the trial period is successfully completed, participants embark on the actual programme. During this period, they are obliged to spend over six hours a day on the centre’s premises and receive integration benefit amounting to 80% of the unemployment allowance.

The programme will usually be abandoned if participants take a normal job or start their own economic activity. In certain circumstances, the 11-month-period may be extended by six months.

Subsidised employment

Following the successful completion of a course at a social integration centre, at the request of the centre’s manager or social worker or the participant concerned, a poviat labour office may place the participant in a subsidised employment scheme. This is based on an agreement between an employer and the administration of the poviat and involves the former employing the participant for at least 18 months. During the first 12 months of employment, the poviat refunds to the employer part of the participant’s remuneration, at a maximum rate of:

  • 80% of the unemployment allowance plus a social insurance contribution for the first three months;
  • 60% of the unemployment allowance plus a social insurance contribution for the next three months; and
  • 40% of the unemployment allowance plus a social insurance contribution for the next six months.

This subsidy will be financed by the Labour Fund, based on the principles regulating such matters in the legislation on employment and unemployment prevention.

Social integration clubs

The abovementioned forms of support for the target groups will be supplemented with 'social integration clubs'. Municipalities, social welfare centres or public benefit organisations involved in social and occupational reintegration can run such clubs, whose goal is to stimulate therapeutic, occupational and self-help initiatives. The most important tasks of the clubs are to:

  • organise temporary employment programmes, aimed at helping people find temporary (part- or full-time) jobs and preparing them to take on these jobs;
  • provide legal guidance; and
  • promote self-help activity with respect to employment, accommodation and social issues.

Participation in the social integration clubs is voluntary.

Commentary

The new law forms part of the government's 'Social policy strategy, labour and social security 2000-5', and is a new development in Polish legislation. Its effective implementation will enhance the efficiency of the functioning of the social welfare system - in particular, the occupational activation of people who are socially excluded or threatened by exclusion - and it has thus already met with considerable support. Unfortunately, the hopes emerging from this law have been overshadowed by certain threats. First, the poor financial resources of the municipalities (gminas) may reduce dramatically the possibility of extra expenditure. Second, the provision in the law on social welfare on the number of social workers who should be employed - one social worker per 2,000 inhabitants - has not yet been achieved, which greatly impairs the activation activities provided for by the new legislation. Finally, many people argue that the new measures will be conducive to enhanced competition on the labour market. (Rafał Towalski, Institute of Public Affairs (Instytut Spraw Publicznych, ISP) and Warsaw School of Economics, (Szkoła Główna Handlowa, SGH)).

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