East German jobless total falls

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The Independent Online
Norbert Blum, Germany's Employment Minister, yesterday welcomed the news that the official number of jobless in the east of the country had fallen for the fifth consecutive month. But he warned that it was still far too early to sound the all clear.

Responding to figures showing that unemployment in the east stood at 1,123,000 in June, a fall of 26,000 from May, he said that 'even if not in huge leaps' the improvement was now perceptible and the 'catastrophe scenarios' so frequently presented in the past were not holding true. At the same time, however, there should be no let up in the efforts of employers, trade unionists and the state to achieve a full revival of the former Communist region.

While government spokesmen are quick to seize on any sign of improvement in the eastern economy as a vindication of their policies, opposition Social Democrats remain sceptical. Ottmar Schreiner, an SPD spokesman on social policy, said that yesterday's news should in no way be seen as proof of a genuine upswing.

SPD politicians and many independent observers accuse the government of massaging the figures. Thus, although officially 1,123,000, or 13.8 per cent of the east German workforce, are currently registered as unemployed, more than double that number again are either working 'short-time', are engaged in government-funded job creation schemes and re-training programmes or have been forced into early retirement.

Many predict, too, that it is likely to get worse before it gets better. According to Heinrich Franke, president of the Federal Statistical Office, a fresh wave of redundancies can be expected in July, the beginning of the third quarter, as more uncompetitive east German industries are forced to shut down.

By contrast, the unemployment figure in the west of the country remains fairly static. In June, 1,715,000 west Germans registered as unemployed, an increase of 11,000 over May, but the percentage remained constant at 5.6.