- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 2, 2005

BERLIN — Germany’s trade union federation has warned that unemployed people can legally be asked to seek work in brothels under new welfare reforms introduced on Jan. 1 aimed at cutting mass joblessness.

The reforms, the toughest package of cuts introduced by any German government since World War II, state that people out of work for more than 12 months must take on any type of work or face cuts in their benefits.

Prostitution is legal in Germany and Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s center-left government gave prostitutes employment protection rights in 2002. Prostitutes are now eligible for social welfare benefits.

“At present, no one is being asked to work as a prostitute against their will, and such a situation will probably never arise. But the government has neglected to clarify what type of work should be judged unacceptable, and that’s what we’re criticizing,” said Claudia Falk, spokeswoman for the DGB trade union federation in the northern port of Hamburg.

“We need to get legal definitions of what constitutes unacceptable work,” Ms. Falk said. “Theoretically, there could be misunderstandings. You could get cleverly worded advertisements for jobs as ‘young waitresses’ that have little to do with serving tables.”

The government conceded that unemployment was likely to top 5 million for January, the highest level since the war. Faced with important regional elections this year and a general election in 2006, the government has put intense pressure on job centers to place the long-term unemployed in any kind of work.

The January rise in unemployment can be partly explained by a statistical effect of the reforms that have put thousands of welfare claimants in the regular jobless statistics for the first time.

But the number of jobless Germans has remained more than 4 million since 2001, and the jobless rate has been above 10 percent for more than a decade because of a combination of slow economic growth, some of the highest labor costs in the world and generous welfare benefits that in many cases have dulled people’s desire to seek work.

Newspapers have reported cases in which job centers referred women to topless bars or brothels by mistake. In a widely reported case in 2003, a Berlin job center sent a 25-year-old woman for an interview in a massage parlor, not knowing it was a brothel.

However, the Federal Labor Office, which manages the dense network of state-funded job centers, said no one is sent for interviews in brothels, topless bars or striptease clubs unless they want to work there.

“Basically, prostitution isn’t illegal and it’s not out of the question that we refer people to such jobs, but because we have to adhere to certain societal norms, no one who hasn’t expressed the desire to do such work will be referred there,” said Ulrich Waschki, a spokesman for the Labor Office.

“And if a prostitute quits her job because she’s sick of it, she won’t face the penalties we usually impose on people who voluntarily give up work.”


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