A beautiful job centre, shame about the work

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The Independent Online
SERGEI ZHURAVLYOV, a qualified aircraft engineer, was tired of going into work, sitting around doing nothing and not getting paid. Bravely, he declared himself redundant and signed on last week at the job centre.

"We are here to give hope," said Anatoly Pigida, head of the job centre in Moscow'sTaganka district. "We do have jobs to offer."

Housed in a newly renovated 19th-century mansion, with computers in every office, it was a far cry from the grubby office with card indexes I visited five years ago.

I had gone to the job centre to find a fallen Russian yuppie. In the latest economic crisis, banks have been laying off staff, but hurt bankers crawl away to lick their wounds and then network for new jobs rather than sign on.

"So far, the effects of the crisis have not fed through to us," Mr Pigida said. "You won't find any bosses here, certainly not Viktor Chernomyrdin," he joked in reference to the Prime Minister who had just lost his job.

Indeed, of the 809 registered at this job centre, 556 were women. Only 41 were in their twenties or younger. Most job-seekers were middle-aged.

In Mayor Yuri Luzhkov's Moscow, the unemployed are initially not much worse off than those still in work. They get their legal entitlement to 75 per cent of their former income in the first three months and are offered opportunities for retraining.Most Moscow enterprises still pay regularly into a state fund for the unemployed.

On paper, unemployment in Moscow stands at 0.7 per cent, but in fact thousands of people are only going through the motions of work.

"Lately, there's been nothing to do at work," said Galina Silina, 47. She has spent most of her working life in a "Beriozka" (Little Birch Tree) shop, one of the stores that in Soviet times sold goods for hard currency to foreigners.

Counsellor Valentina Makarova keyed Galina's details into her computer: "Job in a supermarket near Kashirskaya Metro; no, they want somebody under 35."

"Experience used to be everything," Galina said. "Now it counts for nothing."

"Job selling ice-cream from a kiosk," offered Valentina.

"No way," said Galina. "It'd be cold in winter. The Beriozka was nice. We used to get a good class of people in there."

Sergei Zhuravlyov, the aircraft engineer, knew that at 43 his opportunities were limited. Valentina looked down lists of general clerical jobs. They were all for younger people and computer skills were essential.

"Look," Sergei said. "I really just need to earn money. I'll do anything. I can't go on with my wife keeping the family."

At that, Valentina printed out for him the details of a job loading and unloading at a market, at a salary of 800 roubles (about pounds 36). "Is that a job for a family man with higher education?" she said after he had left. "If I'm to be honest, all we are doing here is offering the illusion of hope."