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Unemployment crisis devastates Spiš

SPIŠ- The signs of deep unemployment are all over Spišska Nová Ves, the northernmost district of the Košice region in eastern Slovakia. People wander through the town's stores with almost empty bags, buying only a few things. Talk on the street is about job troubles. The train and bus stations are sprinkled with young people heading to Bratislava or other cities to look for work. The job board at the local job center perhaps tells the toughest story: though there are 11,000 people unemployed here, only 32 available job openings are listed.
With a 25.63% unemployment rate as of Feb. 28, 1999, this mountainous district is one of the worst hit by unemployment in Slovakia. The suffering is hitting ordinary people like unemployed construction worker Marian J., who would not give his last name.

SPIŠ- The signs of deep unemployment are all over Spišska Nová Ves, the northernmost district of the Košice region in eastern Slovakia. People wander through the town's stores with almost empty bags, buying only a few things. Talk on the street is about job troubles. The train and bus stations are sprinkled with young people heading to Bratislava or other cities to look for work. The job board at the local job center perhaps tells the toughest story: though there are 11,000 people unemployed here, only 32 available job openings are listed.

With a 25.63% unemployment rate as of Feb. 28, 1999, this mountainous district is one of the worst hit by unemployment in Slovakia. The suffering is hitting ordinary people like unemployed construction worker Marian J., who would not give his last name.

"The situation here is disastrous, but there is no point waiting for the better to come," he said, as he stood waiting for a bus in Spišska Nová Ves. Early last year, he said, he travelled out of the country to find a job. Then he worked for six months as a builder in Spišska Nová Ves, but has not worked since the project ended last December. "I have been on the lookout for a job since then, although it (the search) does not look very bright," said the father of two.

According to the unemployment statistics available to the town's mayor, Karol Mitrík, the problem is growing from month to month, with those out of jobs unable to find them, and more being added to the list daily. Forty-seven percent of the unemployed who have been registered in the Okresný Úrad Práce (OÚP) job center for longer than 12 months, he said.

"Among the 11,000 are skilled labourers such as craftsmen, qualified miners, builders, workers in the business and service sector, workers in machine and textile industries. But a large majority of the unemployed are unskilled workers. And sadly a group of young people under the age of 24 represent 35.2% of the registered unemployed," he said.

The young people are mainly drop-outs from secondary schools who had been preparing for professions which currently can not find work, he added. The total growth rate of unemployment since Jan 31, 1999 is 1.93%, he said.

At the root of the region's problems are massive layoffs from the area's major industries. At the end of last year, hundreds at steel factory SEZ a.s., Krompachy, dress producer Finiš, a.s. Spišska Nová Ves, and agricultural producer Semenár a.s. Spišsiké Vlachy lost their jobs.

"The large factories are prominent and economically support our region, and if more people lose their jobs the results will be alarming," Mitrík said.

The local government is attempting to start projects to stem the continuing difficulty. Along with the Mayor's office, the head of OÚP is attempting to reach out to state banks to help prevent the loss of another 799 jobs from steel maker Kovohuty Krompachy, currently under ownership by Vitrum a.s., Prievidza. The factory is still a major employer in the districts of Levoča and Gelnica.

But one worker interviewed said he felt far from confident about his future in the plant. "I have been working there for 25 years and the current situation is unstable, which causes tension among workers, said Karol Z., who also would not give his last name.

The Mayor added the town was trying to take additional steps to strengthen local businesses. But he added that the funds allocated to the region by the state government this year are not enough will help to combat the unemployment, and that the town does not have enough money to help the large industries. Instead, the town board is working on a plan which would granting 100,000-150,000 crowns in loans to potential small entrepreneurs. "People are willing to start businesses but they lack the means," Mitrík said.

The Mayor said he would also like to attract new entrepreneurs in cooperation with the state through the granting of tax reductions, and by building up the infrastructure. But there are many obstacles in the way of such plans. Some officials at the local OÚP, for example, complained that the current legislation makes cooperation between local and state government, as well as between firms and the OÚP, difficult.

"These programs need to be supported by the legislation if they are to be brought into life," said a clerk in the OÚP's office who also asked not to be named.

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