Long Time Without Work


People who have been unemployed for a longer period of time need trainings to become employed again. Estonia unfortunately lacks resources for that. According to the data of Eurostat, members of the European Union spend in average 28 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on social protection, but in Estonia the percentage is only 13,4. This statistics shows Estonia and Latvia on the very last place in EU.

Projects of the European Social Fund in Estonia

Activation projects for unemployment outflow since 2004, funded by the European Social Fund (ESF), and the efforts of the officials of the Estonian labour market institution have not caused significant improvement against long-term unemployment. In 2006 there were 28 000 long-term unemployed, of which 11 000 Estonians and 17 000 non-Estonians. Amongst people that have been unemployed for over two years the number of non-Estonians is double of that of Estonians. Thus the biggest problem seems to be the high rate of long-term unemployment amongst the Russian minority in Estonia.
Mai Luuk, lector of social sciences at the University of Tartu has been consulting long-term unemployed in the frame of the projects funded by the ESF. She quotes some telling examples from the feedback questionnaires of the people attending these trainings.
55 year old Russian woman, unemployed for 13 years: “I have been without work for such a long time already and who would want to hire a woman of my age. I am used a sparing lifestyle and luckily my husband has a job. I have vocational education, and have been an economist for all my working life and would not like to be employed as a cleaner now. But that is the only work that the labour market can offer me. I prefer to help my daughter and baby-sit her children.”
The main reasons for long-term unemployment among non-Estonians are a lack of Estonian language skills, living alone and having few acquaintances to give good advice, Mai Luuk says. Estonian employers usually hire non-Estonians for simple jobs and low salaries. Young Estonian employers do not speak Russian and have difficulties to communicate with their Russian-speaking employees. The longer a person has been excluded from the labour market, the less ability and willingness he has for returning. Most of the long-term employed people have had a hard time coping with the loss of job, and the more responsible and stable the employee has been, the more difficult the recovery tends to be.

Three types of unemployment

Mai Luuk, who has a lot of experience consulting unemployed people, divides them roughly into three groups, bringing examples from the feedback questionnaires.

1. People who learn in order to become employed.
The unemployment period of these people is relatively short. They have a higher than average education level, they are professionals in valuable fields of the labour market, they tend to a positive life attitude and working habits. These people are actively participating in the trainings and accept advice. If they still do not get the job they hoped for, they keep searching.
43 year old Russian woman, unemployed for 5 years:” I am so happy to have participated the training project of ESF. I have realized that I am still capable for more. My first goal is to get a job, then independently improve my Estonian and pass the exams for Estonian citizenship. It is very important for me that thanks to this training project I dare to take the first step – to look for a job again after a long unemployment time.”

2. People who learn for entertainment.
The unemployment period for people in this group is from 5 to 15 years. For them the project trainings are a pleasant leisure time activity, because they have no intention of finding a job. Usually women up to 35 years, many of whom have never worked in their life. They excuse their unemployment with the obligation to take care of their children. They live from the income of their partners of parents and unemployment assistance. The reason for not accepting jobs is for example the trouble it would take for a working mother to bring their children to school or kindergarten and back. People in this group could also be called welfare addicts.
35 year old Russian woman, unemployed for 14 years: “It is still too early for me to go to work. I need to take care of my 12 year old son, be attentive of him all the time so that he will not become a drug addict. And what kind of job could I find – I only have secondary education, I don’t speak Estonian and if I were to work as cleaner and stay away from home for long days the accident will be there soon – my son could start smoking or even worse – use drugs, there are so many dangers around us after all!”
Pre-retirement and middle aged women who have been unemployed for a long time live usually from the income of their husband or children and as the main obstacle to getting a job they have mentioned health problems of their husbands, the need to accompany their child to school etc.
56 year old Estonian woman, unemployed for 7 years writes: I used to be a cleaner. Then my husband became disabled and I have been nursing him for years. We have problems with water and electricity – often we are not able to pay the bills. I have no idea where to get help. Officials tell me to get a job, but what job am I still able to find? There are young people everywhere and a cleaner has to be able to deal with modern technology. And if I break something then what happens!”

3. People who learn in order to find a job but do not succeed.
In this group there are unemployed people who suffer from loss of working ability. This is a rather difficult group of people who need versatile support and consulting. They have a lower than average education level, and have previously only done simple work. Alcohol problems are also frequent with people in this group. Their appearance is not exactly what employers wish to see. They have difficulties creating their CV because often they do not remember when and where they have been employed.
Most often they are near to retirement age. The consultant assists them to meet and communicate with employers as these people are usually “frightened and rejected” by employers and officials, they have a low self-esteem and difficulties with communication. They are not informed about the changing labour market and wish to go back to the job they used to have during the Soviet era.

Every person is needed

Mai Luuk notes that most of the long term unemployed people are alone (including single parents) who can only rely on themselves. But the greater is their need to be taken care of by the Estonian society. The ESF project trainings have unfortunately not succeeded in the psychological and emotional stabilization of the long-term unemployed. Special trainings would raise their self-esteem and strengthen their belief in being needed in the society. Right now they are not able to think that they are valuable, have work skills and abilities to find a job in nowadays Estonia.
Funding for adult education will be significantly increased during the years 2008-2012, thus new trainings for long-term unemployed people will be initiated in the Estonian Labour Market institution. This will hopefully bring along a change towards the better, Mai Luuk says.