Tackling jobs tall order for Europe

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File photo: Simphiwe Mbokazi.

Paris - Armando Molinares was an ambulance driver in pre-recession Spain. His wife Ester worked in a retirement home.

After losing their jobs they joined the legions of Spanish unemployed on the road to northern Europe last year.

Leaving their two teenage children with family, they bought a camper van and headed to southern France to pick fruit for the summer on a journey chronicled by the Secours Catholique charity.

But their savings ran out along the way, forcing them to beg for the petrol money.

The Molinares' story is a familiar one in Spain, where some 3.7 million jobs have been lost since a debt-fuelled housing bubble burst in 2008, tipping the country into a severe recession.

The economy finally began growing again in the third quarter of last year, but years of austerity have left Spain and other recovering eurozone countries deeply scarred.

The growth of the past few months has been too puny to make a dent in Himalayan levels of jobless.

Youth unemployment actually worsened in Spain, Portugal and Italy in October.

Spain's youth jobless rate grew to 57.4 per cent, only fractionally behind the record 58 per cent recorded in Greece in August.

With no sign of any let up, young people from southern Europe are likely to keep voting with their feet this year, lured by the prospect of a better life in better-off northern Europe.

Between 2009 and 2011, emigration from countries worst affected by the eurozone crisis shot up 45 per cent, according to the OECD.

Germany, which has unemployment of 6.9 per cent and is grappling with shortages of workers in many sectors, has been one of the chief beneficiaries of the movement.

Over half a million people arrived in Germany between January and June 2012, up 66,000 in a year, on the back of significant increases from southern Europe.

Britain, where unemployment is at a four-year low of 7.4 per cent, has also received a surge in arrivals from crisis-hit eurozone states.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has encouraged the south-north movement, telling young Europeans in a BBC interview in June 2012 that they needed to be more mobile.

But the single labour market envisaged by the European Union's founding fathers is still littered with hurdles.

There's the language barrier, for starters. “I tried to get an internship, but it was impossible,” Agnes Padrol Sureda, a graduate from Barcelona who had hoped to find work in the German TV and film sector, told dpa.

“In the interviews, I kept getting told that my German was poor.”

Location is also often an issue.

While Berlin might seem an exciting destination for young people, a small town in rural Baden-Wuerttemberg may not.

Yet, this is the kind of place where many of the 430,721 job vacancies that Germany had to fill in November are to be found.

“The labour shortages are above all in small-to-medium-sized companies in rural areas,” said Thomas Liebig, a migrant analyst with the OECD, noted.

Employers in northern Europe also complain of a mismatch between the skills in demand and those on offer.

In France, where unemployment is running at 10.5 per cent, factories still struggle to find electricians, welders, coppersmiths and other technicians.

Meanwhile, many migrants are discovering their skills are not recognised in other countries, leaving them with no option but to accept more menial work.

Spyros, a 29-year-old Greek music teacher, waits tables in Berlin because Germany does not recognise his qualifications.

He told dpa he had thought about returning home but was deterred by his parents.

“Don't come back! There is no future here,” they told him.

Many migrants do quickly retrace their steps.

A European Commission study found that two out of three Spaniards who emigrated to Germany had returned home within a year.

Among Greeks and Portuguese, the rate of return within a year was about 50 per cent.

EU governments are stepping up their efforts to dismantle barriers to the free movement of workers.

A new European Skills Passport aims to make it easier for professionals to have their skills validated in another EU country.

On the home front, too, southern European governments are swinging into action on job creation, by slashing payroll taxes, loosening labour laws and boosting training initiatives.

Spain's government won praise in mid-December from the OECD for implementing new rules that make it cheaper for companies to lay off workers during a downtown, reduce severance pay and negotiate salaries and working hours directly with workers.

The OECD linked the “courageous” reforms, which have been connected to a fall in wages, to the creation of around 25,000 additional new permanent contracts each month.

Claiming victory for his reforms, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said: “In difficult situations, it is better to bet on earning a little bit less and maintain as many jobs as possible.” - Sapa-dpa


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