Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Mars? Venus? Nope, Sweden

Stay off work, get paid

Agence France Presse

"Stay home from work, laze about or travel, while collecting 70 per cent of your salary — an illusion? Not in Sweden, where the government will pay workers to take a guilt-free year off and replace them with long-term unemployed, who will get their foot in the door of the job market. Following the success of regional test programmes in place since 2002, Sweden plans to launch the initiative nationwide next year. Run in concert with the National Labour Market Administration (AMS), the programme is aimed primarily at people at the lower end of the wage scale. "AMS plans to prioritise three particular social groups: the long-term unemployed, the handicapped and immigrants," labour ministry spokeswoman Aasa Gunnarsson said, calling feedback from the test programmes "positive". In practice, workers who volunteer to take 12 months off work receive 85 per cent of what they would normally get in unemployment insurance. With the pre-tax monthly salary ceiling set at $3,356, the most a worker can
receive while on sabbatical is $1,282 a month after tax. Employment offices in small towns have been very favourable towards the project during the test period, though it is unlikely to have the same effect in big cities, where the salary ceiling will make it difficult for many families to make ends meet.The profile of the typical volunteer for the programme is a 47-year-old woman who works in the public sector. Birgitta Wiklund, 45, is one such person. She jumped at the opportunity when it presented itself, and in November 2002 she packed her bags and flew off to sunny Thailand with her 10-year-old daughter for three months. "When I got back I was very rested, but starting work again was difficult. Without the government's help I would never have been able to treat myself to this holiday," Wiklund, who works at a local employment office, said. Volunteers are free to travel, study, take care of their kids, build a new home or even startup a company during their year off — anything they want as long as they are not gainfully employed. Paer-Olov Karemar, a 58-year-old accountant, took advantage of the programme to launch a second career: he started a company in the United States and has three patents pending for internet accounting.
"I've always been a bit of an innovator, but not a businessman. My six months of freedom allowed me to find a structure, a network, and ways to develop my ideas. And in addition to making my dream come true, I was also able to find myself," he said. On average, 52 per cent of unemployed people who fill in for someone on sabbatical are offered a full-time job in the company, according to the Institute for Labour Market Policy Evaluation. That is however just a drop in the bucket, what with more than 250,000 Swedes currently out of work in a country of nine million. In July, unemployment hit 5.6 per cent of the workforce, a figure that would be enviable in most other European countries but which is a nightmare for the Swedish state: the country's generous cradle-to-grave welfare benefits are funded by high income taxes, and fewer workers means less revenues."

Unbelievable. And we think we know what political pork is in this country.

Wandering Mind

may not be suitable for political vegans