Decent work opportunities for Romanies not just a matter of education

by Michael Smith

On March 11, 2009 the European Parliament (EP) adopted Magda Kósáné Kovács' report on improving the labour market accession for the Roma. And once again, unless they are only talking about the Roma, the word Roma is, falsely and purposely as such, used as an all-encompassing term for all Romanies, which is incorrect. It would, obviously, not surprise me either if they would be talking here as regards to this report solely about the Roma, in the same way as the decade of inclusion is only for the Roma and only for those in Eastern Europe.

However, access to the labour market is the key to overturn the conditions of deprivation and segregation the Romani-Gypsy minority is experiencing throughout Europe, in the European Union member states as well as in some of those that are not part of the Union.

Despite the strong message coming from the EP report, education alone is not the panacea for accessing decent jobs.

While it is indeed clear that education is an essential part and may be the most important field for programs and policies to focus the Romani-Gypsy, these policies must ensure effective continuation into the labor market by eliminating barriers based on prejudices and racist attitudes.

Many times education and schooling programs for Gypsies fall short of their objective because, at the end of long school and training years, Romanies find it very hard to find a job due to the continued discrimination based on their ethnicity.

That is the reason why education alone will not solve the problem of the extremely high unemployment that Gypsies face unless there is not also a change in the racist attitude toward the Romani minority per se.

Maybe one should also add that the Romani Community itself can be seen to be at fault at times in that they (1) do not encourage the children to attend school and to do well there and (2) in that they do not encourage the aspiration many Gypsy children have of becoming this or that.

One must asks that the European, national and local policy-makers to build a strong link between the education of the Rom and their effective access to the the labour market.

If poor Romani families invest time and money in the education of their children, and also time, money and effort in the education of themselves as adults, but this does not, in the end, result in employment, then the Romani community everywhere will continue considering sending children to school as a loss of precious resources. So the problem here is not just the access to education but fair access to jobs. This can be only achieved by fighting against discrimination and stereotyping of the Gypsy.

According to various surveys conducted by recognised research institutes, European institutions, and human rights organisations, the Romani People face great disadvantages in the labour markets and in self-employment opportunities.

Very high rates of unemployment and under-employment, as well as unqualified and low-paid jobs, characterise the situation of the Romanies in the labour markets in both Member States and the Candidate Countries.

This situation is greatly the result of the low levels of education prevalent amongst Rom and the discrimination they face in the labour market. Romani unemployment rates can vary from 25% to 65%, according to the UNDP data. Many Roma perceive that the reason of their unemployment is their ethnicity, and many of them certainly would not be wrong at all in assuming this. Unemployment is double in the younger group age and is strictly linked to education. Nevertheless, Romanies with secondary school studies still have a high 25% unemployment rate, and therefore education certainly is not the main reason for unemployment amongst Gypsies. Racist attitudes by the general public and employers on the other hand is. How this can be overcome, however, is another question.

© M Smith (Veshengro), 2009