Gesine Fuchs

2020 Working under the conditions of social welfare

2020 Melanie Studer, Gesine Fuchs, Anne Meier and Kurt Pärli: Working under the conditions of social welfare. Final report. Basel/Lucerne.

As welfare states developed their activation policies, mandatory participation of welfare recipients in integration programmes, which include the duty to perform work, increased. It is still largely unclear under which conditions work is done in such programmes. This report presents the results of the research project “Working under the conditions of social welfare”.

Using interdisciplinary methods from social and legal research, we investigated the triangular relationship between social services, welfare recipients and the employing company in the context of working under social welfare. We noticed that although there are basically four widespread types of employment relationships throughout Switzerland (evaluation, qualification, placement, and participation), the actual structure of the legal relationships is extremely diverse.

Until now, the legal relationship – although work is being performed – has been shaped primarily by social welfare law, and, above all, it has been emphasised that participation in a programme is an obligation, the violation of which may lead to a reduction in benefits, up to and including the loss of eligibility for benefits. Through this process, the protective functions of labour law (designed to provide protection to the weaker party in the legal relationship) and social security law took less priority.

Our report shows that this is problematic in several ways. It favours a disciplining effect over actual reintegration. The strong emphasis on the mandatory character and enforcement through negative incentives (such as a reduction of the benefits) creates additional eligibility criteria for state benefits, which are intended to guarantee a life in dignity and social participation. Such policies can also have particularly drastic consequences for the legal status of individuals. Moreover, it has not been sufficiently clarified when state benefits can be refused and for which reasons.

Based on this analysis, we recommend making adjustments in three areas as well as the introduction of minimum standards for work under the conditions of social welfare. The intention is to ensure equal treatment, preserve the human dignity of welfare recipients, and bring the necessary clarity and legal certainty required for proper application of the law.

  1. Participation in an occupational programme is not a prerequisite for entitlement to social welfare or emergency aid. Any reduction of benefits based on the refusal to participate in appropriate and reasonable occupational programmes must be proportionate.
  2. The legal relationship in those programmes that involve the performance of work is regulated by employment contracts and wages are subject to social insurance.
  3. State-of-the art evaluations must measure the impact of the programmes. This is a prerequisite for the State being able to control programme offers on the market.

These recommendations are based on existing practice in certain cantons and programmes.

Final report

More on the project: