VP wants to force jobless into work

The Peoples Party (VP) is continuing to sharpen its profile by calling for stricter rules for jobless people eligible to receive the recently agreed guaranteed minimum subsidy.

The Social Democrats (SP) recently managed to convince coalition partner VP to agree on the introduction of a minimum support of 560 Euros for jobless singles and 837 Euros for couples.

The VP in return won the SP֒s support for its plans to set up a so-called transparency database listing all kinds of social benefits and other payments every Austrian receives. The online database, set to go into operation next year, will allow authorities and individuals to check their "balance" of taxes, earnings and subsidies.

Now VP families state secretary Christine Marek has caused new controversy by suggesting people out of work for more than half a year should be forced to work - and have their guaranteed minimum subsidy slashed if they object.

Some influential conservative VP MPs have claimed the new law allows people unwilling to work to "enjoy a lazy life in the social hammock".

Marek who heads the VPs Vienna department and its list for the 10 October city election said in an interview with ORF radio station 1 this morning (Tues): "This suggestion is, of course, also a certain warning and a motivation for those who show a lot of effort in finding a job."

The state secretary said jobless people could work for charities like Caritas, mow lawns or sweep the streets of communities and towns. Marek, who claimed such work was "reasonable", said the VP wanted to adapt a similar scheme which was "successfully" introduced in Germany some months ago.

Marek said such a model would be a big help in fighting the misuse of social subsidies and might also reduce the amount of illegal work causing billions of Euros of damage to the state every year.

Sigisbert Dolinschek, the Alliance for the Future of Austrias (BZ) labour issues spokesman, stressed his party wanted to widen the gap between the guaranteed minimum financial support rate for the unemployed and the lowest salary rates of the country. In a first reaction to Mareks appeal, Dolinschek said: "It must be worthwhile to work. The BZ calls for a minimum income of 1,300 Euros before tax for many years."

Mareks announcements come weeks after it emerged that Austria had the lowest jobless rate (3.8 per cent) among the European Unions (EU) 27 member states for a second time in two months.

EU officials said Austrias unemployment rate edged down by 0.1 per cent from June to July, adding that Austria was just one of three EU members which managed a year on year improvement.

The Netherlands had the second-lowest unemployment rate in the EU in July with 4.4 per cent, while Spain (20.3 per cent) did worst.

Research agencies IFES and SORA, however, found last week that 350,000 people - Austrians (10 per cent) - claimed being unable to get along on what they earned.

People working in Vienna earn most with an average 2,298 Euros a month. The province of Burgenland has the lowest average income rate among Austrias nine provinces (1,903 Euros).

Mareks suggestions to force people out of work to take on jobs on offer is set to have an impact on the VPs bid to retain second place in the Vienna city parliament.

The party garnered 18.8 per cent in the most recent provincial ballot in 2005, but the right-wing Freedom Party (FP; 2005: 14.8 per cent) is tipped to overtake Mareks faction.

The VPs Vienna branch has made clear it hoped to agree with the SP on forming a coalition after the election, assuming that the Social Democrats will lose their absolute majority for a second time after 1996.

Marek claimed the VP will be a reliable partner for the SP while branding the Greens a "chaotic bunch" after two influential district branch chiefs left to nominate their own lists recently.

The Vienna VP has criticised the SP especially for allegedly excessive and careless spending on various controversial building and infrastructure projects.

The FP of Heinz-Christian Strache has accused SP Mayor Michael Hupl of caring more about immigrants unwilling to integrate than about hard-working Austrians.

The Vienna Greens headed by federal deputy boss Maria Vassilakou claimed there will be no progress if a coalition of SP and VP take over after the upcoming ballot.

The Viennese BZ department which is being given no chance to enter the parliament won renowned business journalist Walter Sonnleitner to act as its front runner.

Analysts expect the Vienna SP to further focus on pointing out the citys high standard of living quality and low crime rate.

Vienna came on top of the 2010 edition of Mercers Quality of Living Survey ahead of the Swiss cities of Zurich and Geneva. The Austrian capital is also the second-safest city with more than one million residents in German-speaking Europe behind Munich, Germany.

US political strategist Stanley Greenberg agreed to consult the party once more after advising Hupl who became mayor in 1994 several times in the past.

Significantly few polls have so far been published. Some claim the Vienna SP which owns several PR agencies and publishing houses tries to hold results back amid fears many residents satisfied with the state of things might stay away from the voting booths, assuming that the SP will increase its share anyway.

Austrian Times