Lessons from Albania's 'Public Chores in the Community' Programme for Roma
04 August 2023
Public Chores in the Community is a 12-month employment programme sponsored by the Albanian government to provide employment opportunities to long-term unemployed individuals. A council of minister decision issued this programme no. 535 on the 8th July 2020 to run nationally. It aims to train and employ Romani men and women, and other disadvantaged groups, who face barriers to finding work due to a lack of skills, long-term engagement in informal ventures and lack of social and economic deprivations due to discrimination. The programme offers various occupations such as childcare, healthcare, rehabilitation assistance, community and environmental work, counselling services, youth services, and services in art, tourism, and culture.
Basically, the programme provides part-time employment and training opportunities for long-term unemployed individuals. Participants work 20 hours a week and could receive additional training in vocational centres. Each group of participants is assigned a supervisor who develops an individual training plan and ensures its execution. Regarding eligibility, the beneficiaries should be 25 years old and registered at regional employment offices for at least 12 months. The programme matches participants' skills and needs with available job opportunities. Employers, including non-profit organisations, social businesses, and public institutions, can apply to hire up to seven employees in fields related to public interest projects.
The scheme has various advantages, such as providing unemployed individuals with much-needed income and job training. It also addresses important community needs and improve public infrastructure and services. It is also perfect for individuals on the brink of retirement who lack a few months of mandatory social insurance. Yet, these programs have faced controversies, particularly regarding their potential to create only temporary employment rather than sustainable, permanent job opportunities.
Finding permanent job opportunities can be difficult, especially in areas with high unemployment rates or limited available positions. This poses a hurdle for participants who have acquired training and experience through the programme but struggle to secure stable employment. According to a coordinator that supervised a group of beneficiaries of the scheme in Tirana, “the programme aims to aid the transition of the Roma in sustainable and long-term employment after completing the term of the scheme, through training at the workplace, adjusting to the culture of a workplace. It also helps Roma women that used to work only indoors to come out from that routine, work under supervision and manage time and incomes”.
But despite these goals, many participants ultimately end up in temporary "gig" jobs in sectors with an existing labour force. This limited scope of public works programme poses another challenge, as they can only provide temporary employment to a few participants. Consequently, the programme’s long-term impact may be limited, especially in areas with high unemployment or poverty rates. The chances of Romani employees continuing to work in these positions are low, raising concerns about their pathway and ability to compete for positions after the programme ends.
Another limiting factor is participant retention. While the programme aims for participants to transition to permanent employment, Romani men and women, among others, may drop out of the programme for different reasons, including finding better job prospects or dealing with personal and family issues. Not to mention immigration, another factor that affects particularly marginalized groups, including Roma, who flee due to structural exclusion and discrimination, which brings about a loss of trust in public policies and lack of improvement in their current and future living conditions.
There are also problems in evaluating the effectiveness of public works programmes and assessing their achievement of goals. The government and implementing agencies must evaluate the programme's sustainability, including the link between employment and access to social and health services for beneficiaries like the Romani community. Tracking the employability of Romani participants after programme completion and considering further skill specialization is important. Adequate funding and stakeholder support are essential to meet participant needs and ensure programme success.
Yet, measuring such outcomes, like participant employment rates and community impact, pose difficulties, often requiring indirect measures or participant feedback. Programme coordinators, often from NGOs, play a crucial role in this evaluation process. Once the programme is completed, the Regional Employment Office assumes responsibility for employment monitoring.
The evaluation would require the coordinators to run evaluation questionnaires periodically to ensure the trackability of performance and success rate. Additionally, it would require at least one year of follow-up with the employees whether they continue working someplace or have returned to their initial unemployed status, whilst the impact in the community is measured by linking the increasing interest of other members of the community with the public chores in the community program. Another measurement would be checking how the family's overall economic and social situation has changed since and after a member of it has joined the employment program. Finally, on an individual level, the impact of the programs towards someone’s life is measured by his or her readiness to navigate confidently in the labour market ocean. ‘"The success of this programme can be achieved through a well-established approach by the beneficiaries towards the employment program. Additionally, I believe the National Agency for Employment and Skills (NAES) should ensure the programme's sustainability once the programme period is completed and the potential employees are prepared to enter the labour market. Naturally, the NAES's assistance would be invaluable in this process", says a coordinator appointed for a group of employees in Tirana.
To conclude, the core issue is the transition from temporary employment, aided by the employment scheme, to permanent employment and the readiness to respond to and match the needs and demands of the labour market. To address these challenges and improve the long-term impact of public works programs, it is crucial to address factors like participant retention, social inclusion, the availability of permanent job opportunities, and effective programme evaluation.
Efforts should be made to provide ongoing support, to further skills development, and to create a conducive environment for sustainable employment within the community. The Romani population is characterized by a young working age group and has great potential. Thus, it is best convenient to empower them socially and economically because it helps Romani families to get out of the vicious loop of marginalisation and empowers the overall community to meaningfully participate in economic system.
This article was written by one of our Roma Rights Defenders as part of the ‘ERRC Newsroom’ project, bringing together Romani and non-Romani activists with an interest in journalism and human rights. The project provides volunteers with mentoring, copy-editing, training, and opportunities to pitch articles on Roma Rights issues for publication on ERRC News. If you are interested in pitching an article to ERRC News, or joining this volunteer project, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.