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Disabled People, Women Hurt Most by Economy’s Plunge

August 30, 1990

EAST BERLIN (AP) _ Women and handicapped people are having a tougher time than healthy men finding work in East Germany’s rapidly shrinking job market, activists said Thursday.

The government confirmed that disabled workers were being unfairly targeted for layoffs by factories forced to slash payrolls to compete in the new capitalist economy.

Officials also conceded that companies still in a position to hire people are reluctant to employ women because of special benefits women were given by the former Communist government.

Christina Schenk, an official with the Independent Women’s Association, a rights group, said layoffs of East German workers are being distributed almost evenly among men and women.

However, women are having a harder time qualifying for jobless benefits.

Slightly more than half of the unemployed men are able to qualify for the minimum jobless benefit, $325 per month, compared to 27 percent of the women, she said.

According to Ms. Schenk, men also are three times more likely to be hired for the increasingly dwindling job openings in the country.

Gabriela Reinhardt, spokeswoman for the government’s Central Labor Agency, said Ms. Schenk’s figures were correct. She said fewer women qualify for unemployment because many held part-time jobs.

Those women still can qualify for social assistance of $263 per month, she said.

She conceded that many companies are reluctant to hire women because East German law currently grants women one paid day off per month to give them time for housework. She said women also have a higher absentee rate because of illnesses among their children.

Experts say more than 90 percent of East German women held jobs under the former Communist regime, a sharp contrast to West Germany, where most women stay at home.

Women’s groups have charged that because of the situation in West Germany, East German women will be forced out of the labor market when the two German states unite Oct. 3.

Ilja Seifert, head of the East German Disabled Persons Association, said handicapped people are among those being targeted for layoffs first by companies.

Ms. Reinhardt also said disabled people were losing their jobs at a disproportionate rate.

″Unfortunately, many firms work outside the law,″ she said. ″It is not lawful to fire someone for the sole reason they are disabled. But unfortunately, it happens often.″

Seifert and Ms. Schenk both spoke at a news conference called by activist groups that have formed since East Germany began experiencing serious economic problems.

Many East German enterprises, typically overstaffed and often inefficient and outmoded, have been pushed to the brink of collapse since East Germany moved to a free market July 1.

Some experts said East German joblessness could reach 4 million.

Klaus Grehn, head of a workers’ rights group called the Unemployment Association, said the total number of unemployed in East Germany is about 1.5 million, or 18 percent of the workforce.

East Germany pegged its number of jobless at about 350,000 as of last Friday, about 4 percent.

Joachim Hildebradt, spokesman for the government Labor Committee, said Grehn’s group counts East Germans who do not fall under the government’s definition of unemployed, and said the figures were too high.

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