German court slaps down harshest sanctions against jobseekers

Karlsruhe, Germany, Nov 5 (AFP/APP): Germany’s top court on Tuesday put a cap on how far benefits for uncooperative jobseekers can be slashed, in a blow to the controversial unemployment reforms rammed through by Gerhard Schroeder’s government in 2005.

Judges at the federal constitutional court said that the total cut in benefits should never be allowed to exceed 30 percent, and in cases where lower payments would cause “extreme hardship”, no penalties need to be imposed at all.

The sanctions allowed under Germany’s so-called Hartz IV benefits system, which combines social welfare and long-term unemployment payments, have long been contested with critics saying they violate the right to a dignified existence.

Under the current rules, a jobseeker’s monthly dole can be docked if they fail to turn up for a job interview, turn down employment or miss training opportunities.

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In extreme cases, recipients can lose up to 60 percent of their benefits — and repeat offenders can be cut off altogether for three months.

But judges in Karlsruhe found that the 60-percent reduction was illegal because it “seriously encroaches upon the minimum standard of living guaranteed by fundamental rights”.

Furthermore, judges said that a 30-percent dole cut was “only permissible if the sanction can be waived in cases of extreme hardship” and if its three-month duration can be shortened depending on the jobseeker’s cooperation.

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