4. Public works Varaždin
4.1 Short description
In the frame of “National Plan for Employment for 2009 and 2010”, Regional Office Varaždin in cooperation with units of local government and NGOs started a public works programme. The scheme continued to operate in 2011-2013. District Employment Office Varaždin in 2009 planned to include 41 people in the public works program, but given the great interest for public works in Varaždin County, 109 people were employed. It was planned that in 2010 the public works programme would include 66 people, but given the great interest of local self-government and high-quality programme of public works in the Varaždin County employed 165 persons1. In the framework of the Public Works Employment Office, people who listed in the records as unemployed for 6 or 12 months were co-financed to 75 per cent of the gross minimum wage and people who were unemployed for more than 36 months minimum were funded 100 per cent of the minimum gross wages and received travel expenses to a maximum of 40 euros per month. People mainly worked on reconstructing and maintaining the municipal infrastructure, green areas and the welfare of the elderly.
Social innovation in public work involves a new approach for the long-term unemployed where they are stimulated and their sense of purpose is raised by participating in the programme. Although, as a measure of activation, public works are established in Croatia and therefore cannot be considered innovative in Varaždin, they have achieved significant success in implementation and have a mode of operating that can be considered innovative. They were able to overcome the negative attitudes of users for participation in this type of activation. They continuously increased the number of users who reported satisfaction in participation in the project. Also beside the classical modalities of public works in community work and public utility works, there was another part of the public works called “individual projects.” It enabled cooperation with civil society organisations, which aim to provide support for the development and action of projects that will affect the local social system. In addition, innovation is at the organisation level in the new constellation of stakeholders that helped facilitate the programme. Thus, besides the public companies project has the support of local politics. It is adequately represented by the media. Increased interest of the private sector was noticed and cooperation with civil society organisations was set to a new level by making them active stakeholders in the project.
This innovation has an element of a top-down approach. It is part of the National Active Employment Policy measures, which has the goal of motivating long-term unemployed people. In the public works programmes, employment and activation of long-term unemployed and other groups that are disadvantaged in the market is encouraged. The shared goal is to promote their social inclusion and to affect their level of employability, motivation, work habits and to acquire competencies that they may have lost due to long-term unemployment.
Here is highlighted the special role of the local employment service in Varaždin, which is not only evident by in their off-chart capacities in implementing the project, but also in the way they introduce new elements to the programme, and expand and improve its framework. The economic dimension of innovation is the attempt to overcome the problem of inactive and barely employable people, especially in local communities. There is a considerable lack of programmes to activate those groups in the labour market, particularly in local communities.
In addition, the project proved to be successful in active cooperation with the local social system of Varaždin, working together with local politics and their stakeholders. At this level, Varaždin had significant success, as recognition of the project’s success has shown that a national programme can be implemented and enhanced at the local level.
4.2. Conceptions and ways of addressing users
For people involved in the programme, in the opinion of experts from the CES, satisfaction was observed because they began to work again after long-term unemployment, they were useful to the community and gained new friends. Municipalities and cities consider this form of employment very useful because these people perform those tasks that otherwise may not have been performed. Although there were minor problems in the work (due to reduced ability of employees, alcohol, etc.) people involved in the process agree that the inclusion of long-term unemployed in public works is immeasurable wealth for cities and municipalities. Almost all employees were satisfied with the programme and all of them have achieved positive results in dealing with the maintenance of green areas, especially in the caretaking of the elderly, where the work of long-term unemployed women who have been trained at the Red Cross was particularly noted. Employers were very satisfied with the programme and workers; they especially noted people with disabilities as good workers.
We find that desire to participate in this kind of project have increased, and the stigma often associated with public works programmes, which can be a reason for their failure, has been overcome in case of Varaždin. Users of public works tend to have reserves about participation in the work because it may be considered somewhat shameful or unworthy work. In Varaždin, they recognised it as helpful and opinions and attitudes in the local community towards participation in that type of activation have changed.
As one of CES representatives said,
As for the impact on users, they were initially sceptical. Certain prejudice existed against this type of engagement. They were thinking in the style of a small town, they were worried what people would think and would say when they saw them cleaning the town or something like that. Even outside of Varaždin in some smaller municipalities, mayors of municipalities have had to engage people and literally dragged them by the sleeve to engage them in public works…. Now everybody would like to participate. We have experienced the boom of interest. People have realised that public works are useful.
Public works have affected users in a positive way. Not only do they recognise values of the effects of the preformed work, but also through activation, a certain degree of socialisation have happened. As stated: “It is particularly important for public works, what we noticed in dealing with them, there is a certain re-socialisation, and they realise that they are in some way useful. This is an extremely positive aspect2”
4.3. Internal organisation and mode of working
In the creation of a national plan to boost employment, the state and public administration, who are the bearers of labour market policies, developed measures for activation in coordination with social partners and representatives of civil society. Public works is one of the measures that aims to increase employment participation. Work on that programme is unprofitable and uncompetitive in the local market, improves the financial situation of people who are out of work, increases their employability and motivation for employment. The city of Varaždin, in collaboration with CES Regional Office Varaždin, is conducting this programme for 4th year in a row. Programme participants have been working for various employees groups, Varkom, the Muscular Dystrophy Association, the disabled and children’s cerebral palsy and other physical disabilities associations, in a home for victims of domestic violence, “St Nicholas” Varaždin and others. The programme is usually applied to the less employable and long-term unemployed and people seeking to enter the labour market because they have lost certain knowledge and skills due to their long-term unemployment. Public works and programmes like this are an ideal opportunity for these people to return to the labour market, for them to gain money, but also to return the confidence to people that they are useful to society.
Table 1. Number of participants in public Works in Varaždin 2008-2012
There are three distinct segments of public works. The first segment is a socially useful work. It is oriented towards the employment of persons in humanitarian-type services in local units. First, we have the environmental groups and various associations that help people in one or another form. Another type is the municipal public works3. There is not much interest in that kind of works. In fact, there is the problem that employers must keep the person engaged in public works for twice the duration of the project after their engagement through public works is finished4. The third type of public works is the so-called “Individual projects”. They are also mostly realised in socially useful areas. They are intended for civil society organisations and institutions. They are significant positive shifts in the collaboration of CES Varaždin with civil society organisations in developing and implementing various projects.
4.4. Interaction with the local welfare system
It is shown that in the implementation of public works, CES Varaždin established good coordination with all relevant stakeholders in the local social system from local politics, public administration and civil society organisations to end users.
As one of the users said5:
Responses to the programme were excellent, cooperation with all stakeholders is at the highest level. Not only with the CES, but even with the police and family centres. Here you can see an example of proactive work in the community. Public Works … in this form are very flexible, provide a certain freedom in action. We have good communication with CES. I think that in this case, the basics are well placed so something like this can take place and continue.
That good cooperation is shown in implementing public works and various project within it, but the CES representative is shows some doubts about the intentions of some of the stakeholders “City is interested in these projects, but they were interested in politics also and, therefore, in certain situations they get involved and support this only to be photographed for a PR and many do not have real interest”
However, at the same time, there is a positive impact on the local welfare system regarding cooperation and support by all stakeholders and also by widening the scope of the project every year and the positive influence that it has on the users.
We can see the impact of public works in the local community. We at CES often visit and control public works and go to see how they are doing. Moreover, our boss often goes to control and tries to convey the importance of this type of engagement. We see the impact, especially in the area of civil society organisations. They certainly do useful things. It means a lot to them that, in the public works programme, they can realise certain things. Every year we have more and more organisations with whom we work and we have more and more interest. One can say that this is a reality6.
The conclusion is that the Public Works in the City of Varaždin achieved and are achieving positive results thanks to the good cooperation of all – CES, city, municipalities, NGOs, public and private companies. The participants are preparing a new public works programme with the hope that they will continue to succeed in their programme in improving the quality of life of the long-term unemployed in this area and encouraging their activation. They are fulfilling the purpose of public works in activation of the users and have an impact on their re-socialisation. In addition, they are reshaping the modes of operating and are producing positive influences on system in hole with their innovative organisation and immersion in the local welfare system.
As one of the users said,
Public Works provided us with the wind at our backs, and they have shown that they can be of great benefit. So I think that in these situations, and in general, the wind in the back should also be given to them because they are doing something useful and meaningful.