BERLIN (AFP) — Germany's top court ruled Tuesday that sanctioning jobseekers deemed uncooperative in the search for work was illegal in some cases, 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%, 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 controversial 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.
In extreme cases, recipients can lose up to 60% of their benefits — and repeat offenders can be cut off altogether for three months.
But judges in Karlsruhe found that the 60% reduction was "unreasonable given that the burden it entails seriously encroaches upon the minimum standard of living guaranteed by fundamental rights."
Furthermore, judges said that a 30% 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.
A single jobseeker with no children currently receives $472 a month, while couples receive $845.
The penalties for falling foul of the job center's guidance are harshest for those under the age of 25.
The Hartz IV system is part of the hated "Agenda 2010" labour reforms forced through by then chancellor Schroeder to tackle the country's unemployment.
The reforms have been credited with helping Germany achieve record-low unemployment of around five percent, but the tough-love approach has also been hugely divisive.
Critics say Hartz IV has pushed people into low-paid, precarious jobs, and increased inequality in Germany.
Opponents also say the threat of sanctions places a huge psychological burden on jobseekers.
Schroeder paid a heavy political price for the hated measures, losing the following general election in 2005 to now chancellor Angela Merkel.
© Agence France-Presse
Subscribe to Closing Arguments
Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.