Ewa Boniecka: The unemployment rate in Poland is approaching 14 percent and the number of new jobs is the lowest in seven years. What tools do you have at your disposal to improve the situation?
Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz: To be precise, at the end of December the unemployment rate in Poland was not 14 percent but 13.4 percent. Yet there is no doubt that the unemployment rate is high, and that is a big concern. I have a number of policy tools at my disposal. This year zł.4.7 billion will be spent on training the unemployed and on subsidies for entrepreneurs who create new jobs.
Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz is concentrating on unemployment among the young and the old
Courtesy of the Ministry of Labor and social policy
We are also taking the next step in the restructuring process by reforming public labor offices. In January we started a pilot program in three voivodships: Mazowieckie, Lower Silesia and Podkarpackie, which we hope will encourage private employment agencies to cooperate with public labor offices in job creation, training the unemployed for these jobs and thus helping them remain on the labor market.
The program focuses primarily on those who have been jobless for a long time, on women who want to return to work after maternity leave, and on older people looking for work. This reform is designed to modernize public labor offices and to facilitate their cooperation with the private ones.
Private agencies will be paid for their services in two stages: first for facilitating an unemployed person's return to the job-market and then for ensuring that the person keeps the job for at least a few months. The whole trial program will cost zł.10 million. This project follows the example of public-private job centers that operate successfully in Germany and the UK.
Labor offices are very often seen as bureaucratic and ineffective. Why did the government wait so long with the reform of public labor offices?
The most important factor is that we are implementing these reforms after having examined the examples of job centers in other countries. For the trial program we intentionally chose regions with varied unemployment levels and different job-market particulars. After analyzing the results of public-private cooperation in reducing unemployment and preparing people to enter the job market, we would like to implement the program in the whole country. I expect good results in transforming our labor offices into modern centers where the unemployed are treated as customers and where businesses come with specific requirements, thus creating new jobs.
And are there any efforts being made now to help businesses keep their present employment level, and adjust their production instead of firing people?
We are working towards making all of the employment conditions more flexible. However, a change in labor law is necessary. I hope the amendment draft [announced on February 5] will be approved by parliament and signed by the president in a few months. The proposed amendments will allow businesses to employ workers in a more flexible way, with the number of working hours, and consequently salaries, increasing or decreasing depending on the company's market condition. It will help employers keep their workers.
Entrepreneurs, especially in SMEs, complain that labor costs are rising, while employees claim they earn too little. On the other hand the fact that labor costs in Poland are still lower than in other European countries is seen as an advantage. What is your view on this?
The labor costs as such are not rising, but the conditions of employment are changing. Our labor market is catching up with that of other European countries. Yet in terms of labor costs, Poland is still a very attractive market for investors.
In my opinion one of the key reasons making our market so attractive is the quality of goods and services we produce. I think that after a period of focusing predominantly on low prices, we are again starting to value the quality of products. Poland is becoming more renowned for the quality if its products. That's of key importance when competing with other countries.
How bad is the trade-off between various labor and social policy activities and the need to retain funds for the state budget?
I am fully aware that we are proceeding with our labor and social policy changes under difficult economic conditions, all the while dealing with budget limitations. It is crucial both to maintain and possibly increase GDP growth and promote the financial stability of the state, and to fulfill our social obligations and to reduce unemployment.
We plan to maintain the special economic zones in Poland till 2020 to provide the best conditions for Polish and foreign investors and to facilitate job creation in these areas. Besides, Minister of Economy and Deputy Prime Minister Janusz Piechociński intends to prolong the term of these zones until 2026.
The ministers of economy and treasury have agreed to work on the conditions and procedures to maintain these zones till 2026. If we succeed in keeping them, then according to an assessment by the Ministry of Economy, it will translate to approximately 250,000 new jobs. I strongly believe the term of the zones will be prolonged.
Prime Minister Donald Tusk has promised to create 400,000 new jobs, which seems hardly possible in the present economic situation. How do you see it?
There are analyses showing that hi-tech service centers have huge potential in Poland. We are seen as a very attractive country for hi-tech production. This is not only because of our highly qualified workers and low labor costs, but also because of our reputation for delivering quality products, which increases the competitiveness and market value of our businesses.
I have recently met with Polish business centers' representatives, and I know they want to create 20,000 new jobs in Poland in advanced technologies. And when we take into account that the reformed labor offices will serve half a million people and assume that 250,000 of them will find work, all these factors make the projected number of newly created jobs not far from that given by the prime minister.
What are the priorities for social policy right now?
Our ministry came up with the idea to extend maternity leaves to one year, and this will be implemented by the government starting in March this year. We are focusing on helping families. There is a significant funding increase for daycare centers and at-home child care. While in 2011 funding designated for these purposes was zł.40 million, in 2012-2013 it is half a billion złoty.
Care for the elderly is also very important. In 2012 we started a special program for the elderly and we slated zł.20 million for it. This year we have zł.40 million earmarked for this cause, including money to promote social activity and professional aspirations of the elderly, fund Universities of the Third Age, and facilitate solidarity between different generations. I want to establish a special board in my ministry to deal with issues of the elderly. We will provide them, among other things, with the assistance of geriatric specialists, sociologists, and psychologists.
Because our population is aging, we have to develop a deeper understanding of the various needs and aspirations of senior citizens in order to recognize and take advantage of their professional and social potential more effectively. These issues are very important to me.
Substantial EU funds will be provided to Poland this year for training and activating people who are threatened by unemployment. How much will that help?
The program, called Human Capital, includes a number of elements and intervention in the labor market is only one of them. The program will be enforced at the local level and nearly zł.5 billion will be provided to support educational projects and promote labor activity among various groups of Poles, especially among the disabled.
It will help finance training programs, computer courses and provide support for unemployed people who want to start their own businesses. Emphasis will be put on designing these training programs to better cater to the participants' needs ... and to obtain tangible results when preparing people for various jobs.
Youth unemployment is a serious problem in the EU at the moment. The European Commission wants all EU citizens in their early 20s to get work and training within four months of leaving school. Is that possible under current economic conditions?
This is only a proposal brought forth by the Commission, not a binding recommendation, yet it demonstrates the EU's anxiety with the scale of unemployment among young people. We are discussing this situation with other members' labor ministers. However, even countries with a low unemployment rates, like Sweden and Finland, can only provide half the number of jobs prescribed by the EU.
In Poland, we carried out a special training program last summer, dedicated to young people who dropped out of school. Still, our country, just as many other EU states, cannot guarantee training and workplaces for all young people within four months after they leave school.
And when you compare your ministry's actions to those of corresponding ministries in other EU states, where do we stand?
In this respect, I feel we are in the middle. There is no doubt that, especially in times of economic crisis in the EU, the role and responsibility of ministries dealing with social and labor issues are increasing. People all over Europe are demanding that governments protect their jobs, maintain social care and above all battle unemployment, especially that affecting young generations.
In comparison with countries such as Spain, Italy and Ireland, not to mention Greece, unemployment in Poland is much lower and social policies receive proper funding. I do everything I can to modernize the functioning of the ministry and promote a flexible and modern approach to the labor market and social policy. I hope for a positive change in the Polish economy, and there are many signals that in the second half of this year unemployment will fall.
You are a member of the Polish People's Party (PSL), which favors a social market economy, while the Civic Platform and the government have more liberal economic views. Do those differences influence the shaping of labor and social policy?
There are no disputes about it in the government, but there are some differences in social sensitivity among some of us. PSL's social sensitivity is rooted in our support for the social market economy and the social teachings of the church.
But that doesn't mean that the government cannot successfully tackle economic and social problems. And in my opinion this variety of approaches eventually leads to arriving at the best result.
Currently, my role, with the support from the minister of finance, is to convince the whole Council of Ministers of the effectiveness of the reform of labor offices. I hope that in the course of this year, economic performance will take a turn for the better both in Poland and in the whole of Europe, and that the situation on job markets will improve, so that young Europeans will be able to look to the future with more optimism.
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