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Submitted by Marcin Bąk on Tue, 06/30/2020 - 08:37
Interview with minister Marlena Maląg

Minister, how has the coronavirus affected the labour market in Poland?

The coronavirus pandemic we have been dealing with since mid-March has indeed had a significant impact on the Polish economy. On the other hand, after six weeks of the Anti-Crisis Shield being in place, we can say that the mechanisms we have introduced are effective. And other European states concur with that assessment. Above all, we want businessmen to receive support to protect their jobs. The support instruments among include wait-time benefits, exemption from social security contributions or small loans for microentrepreneurs. These mechanisms have been implemented and for now it can be said that funding in the amount of about PLN 12 billion has been transferred from the Anti-Crisis Shield to protect jobs. Actual businessmen, employees and their families are behind these applications.

Did you manage to avoid a flood of redundancies?

If we look at the situation on the labour market, which we monitor every day, after April we have about 960 thousand unemployed. The unemployment rate stands at 5.7 percent. This shows that there has been an increase in the number of unemployed people, but when we look at May, these rates are slightly lower than in April. If we compare April to May, fewer unemployed people are registered. From this we can conclude that the instruments we have introduced are simply working. Employers take risks with reduced working hours or economic downtime to take care of the worker, and after that, when the economy is able to move on, they take the momentum. Now that the next stage of de-freezing the economy is underway, our analyses show that the situation should be under control. And that's how it is. If we look at the labour market, I would not want to have to forecast what unemployment will look like at the end of the year. The government wants the instruments we are introducing to be effective enough to protect jobs.

So what did you actually achieve?

According to the data as of 20 May, we paid out PLN 3.7 billion in microloans, PLN 3.4 billion from the Guaranteed Employee Benefits Fund was transferred to employers to protect their jobs. One billion zlotys was transferred from the European Social Fund to support jobs. The wait time benefits paid out by the Social Insurance Institution (ZUS) amount to PLN 1.3 billion and Social Insurance Institution contributions which have been waived for micro and small businesses amount to PLN 1.8 billion. This is really major support. That was the philosophy behind them, they were not random mechanisms. We decided that at this difficult time it is necessary to give businessmen as much financial support as possible to make state support really discernible for them.

In addition to the Anti-Crisis Shield, the Polish Development Fund has also announced the Financial Shield, which introduces mechanisms to support micro, small and larger companies worth PLN 100 billion. It is also effective, as we can see every day. The labour market is currently in a very difficult situation due to the epidemiological situation in the country, but our actions are prepared to go through this time relatively calmly. The most important thing is that the economy can recover relatively quickly after the pandemic.

What about support for the unemployed?

Here, we should mention the unemployment benefits and the solidarity allowance, i.e. the mechanisms announced recently by President Andrzej Duda and Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki. These are solutions to give further support to people who have found themselves in a difficult situation. The initial guidelines, which the President and the Prime Minister have spoken about, are to some taking shape. I think we'll soon be able to talk about it out loud, and the president will propose a legislative initiative. The solidarity allowance, which is provided for in the amount of PLN 1,300, is to be paid to persons who have lost their jobs as a result of coronavirus. It will be paid out for three months: June, July, August. We've been working on this since we increased the unemployment benefit, but here we're still discussing the details. I'm sure it'll come to fruition this week.

Some economists and opposition politicians have argued that existing social programmes should be suspended or abolished, because it is an unnecessary expense and the money should be better spent on helping entrepreneurs. Meanwhile, the Law and Justice Government stick with it. What was the decisive factor here? Did the government ever discuss scaling down these programs at all?

Today, the role of social programmes is somewhat different than when they were introduced. Primarily care for the family, lies at the foundation of the United Right governments. It is about creating such instruments to support families with small children, but also seniors. As a result of the Family 500 Plus programme, which was launched on 1 April 2016, 108 billion zlotys have been handed over to Polish families to date - or 6.5 million children every month, Under no circumstances are we going to give up on these programmes. In this year's budget we have about 40 billion PLN for the implementation of the Family 500 Plus programme.

However, it must be said that today these programmes also have additional aspects. In addition to investing in the family, it is these programmes that help families who today may find themselves in a difficult situation. These programs support the home budget, so it gives families a sense of stability and peace. As a government, we absolutely have not considered to limit social programs. On the contrary, we saw their extra role. The situation with the "Good start" program, i.e. the school starter pack is similar. Today we are not thinking about starting the school year yet, but parents are slowly thinking about the future. When the next school year begins, parents will be able to use the starter pack. We have earmarked almost PLN 1.5 billion for this in the budget. And also the "Little One Plus" programme,. Its budget has been increased to PLN 450 million per year. We want to create new jobs and give parents the choice of whether the mother wants to return to the job market after her maternity leave or whether she prefers to stay home and raise her child. If she returns, she should be able to take care of a child up to three years old. We want more and more nursery places to be created. Another program is the "Large Family Card", which is very popular and is still growing.

It also supports social programmes for seniors as part of intergenerational solidarity. We're now finishing thirteenth pension payments. Almost PLN 12 billion has been transferred to about 10 million pensioners. This is also a different dimension of this benefit than before. An additional aspect of the material security for our seniors in experiencing this difficult time. From the beginning, when the difficult situation of the pandemic emerged and it was known that it would translate into the economy and the labour market, the government consciously decided that the social programmes would be fully maintained and continued. Our policy is to guarantee stability and emphasize the role of the family. Investment in them is extremely important, and in a way it is also the flywheel of the Polish economy.

You mention the Family 500 Plus program. On April 1, four years have passed since it was introduced by the United Right government. I guess one could have a stab at an appraisal. Is the programme meeting expectations? How has the situation of Polish families changed over the last four years?

Indeed, on April 1, four years have passed since the introduction of the Family 500 Plus programme. It was a good time to reflect. First of all, I can say with full responsibility that it was a powerful investment in the family and showing that it is the most important. With family support, the Government of Law and Justice is building its economy and this is one of our foundations Apart from the material aspect, the Family 500 Plus programme had a pronatalist assumption, because the demographic situation of our country at that time was tragic. As a result of this programme, fertility increased. Of course, our expectations are even higher, but it must be emphasized that if there were no 500 Plus program, even fewer children would be born. This was well demonstrated by the then analyses of the Central Statistical Office. Today's family model, in which two or three children are born, is increasingly accepted by young families.

Four years ago, when we were introducing the program, I worked in the Voivodship Office in Poznań, where we established the Family Council, we saw from the research that young people do not decide on more children for material reasons. We will continue to develop this pronatalist aspect, because the demographic situation of our country is challenging. Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki indicated this in his expose. We are currently in the process of building a long-term demographic strategy for Poland. I think we'll soon show you where we want to go. The experts are working out a model for further work of the government, in which direction the support and broad demographic policy of the United Right should go. The Law and Justice government focused on the family, and our flagship programme Family 500 Plus was a challenge for that time, but it shows the direction of our actions and what is really important.

However, the Polish opposition and the liberal-left media scornfully indicate that the government wanted to "buy" voters in this way. Foreign press followed suit. Why does the United Right government put such a strong emphasis on the role of the family, and why did it decide to introduce this program?

The foundation of the government of the United Right is the family, because it is the most important. It's a primary cell that should grow. Often, when the philosophy of our actions is criticised, it actually has nothing to do with the content. There are no sensible arguments that would undermine our actions. Investment in the family drives our economy. If our families live in a sense of dignity, of raising their value, we will build our capital and our values on this. Therefore, our direction is unchanged.

Finally, I wanted to ask what is the biggest challenge of the Ministry of Family, Labour and Social Policy? What goals has the ministry set itself for the near future?

Looking at the broadly understood activities of the Ministry of Family, Labour and Social Policy, one can say that the most important priority is the family, because all other aspects revolve around it. Compared to the last four years, the situation of our ministry has changed a little, because looking at the emerging labour market, it was changed by the coronavirus epidemic. Labour market and labour fund departments have new challenges - their priority is to protect jobs. As a result, it is supposed to give the entrepreneurs an opportunity to develop, but also to provide peace of mind to the employees, because there are families behind them. In fact, at all times our main challenge all is family. Regardless of the instruments, the main goal nowadays is to protect jobs so that Polish families can live and develop.