Welfare Minister may backtrack unemployment benefits cut

Latvia's Welfare Minister Ramona Petraviča (KPV LV) said March 24 that cuts to the duration of unemployment benefits could be reversed.

Appearing on an online press-conference, she said that the cuts to unemployment benefits – both to the duration and the amount received – had been implemented during a time when employees were lacking, but that the situation has changed now.

But the minister avoided naming specific measures even as thousands of people are now sure to be laid off as part of downscaling in a number of industries. "I would not want to start by increasing the term [of benefits]. At first we have to use these two months to save jobs," she said.

She said that there's a safety fund of about €1 billion in the social budget and that she hopes it won't have to be spent on mitigating the crisis.

Ingus Alliks, State Secretary at the Welfare Ministry, said that should the virus outbreak become protracted, unemployment benefits could be paid for a longer time or frozen for a time. 

The news comes as 14 companies have contacted the State Employment Agency over planned mass lay-offs of a total of 2,884 employees. There are 59,000 unemployed people in Latvia right now, up 1,200 from March 1. 

Starting this year, the maximum duration for which people can receive unemployment benefits has been cut to eight months from the previous nine. 

The benefits are to be paid in full for the first two months, for 75% for the next two months, for 50% for the next two and 45% for the final two.

The cuts were announced last year executive-procedure style, with the government's social partners caught by surprise

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