Women Find They Are Likely To Be Fired First

IN eastern Germany, unemployment is hitting women harder than men. In pre-unification days, women made up nearly half of the work force in eastern Germany. Now they account for more than half (55.8 percent) of the unemployed.

To a large extent, this is because those sectors in which a female labor force was heavily represented - such as administration or the chemical and textile industries - were the most inefficient and therefore experienced the greatest cutbacks.

But not to be discounted, add economists, is a widespread assumption that employers - now free to hire and fire whom they please - are letting women go first because they are "risk" employees likely to miss work more often than men.

Not only are women over-represented among the unemployed, they are under-represented by about 10 percent in new job-creation and job-retraining programs, according to the Ministry for Women and Youth in Bonn.

It is fairly certain that east German women won't be able to regain the presence in the work force that they once had, says Karin von Lupke, who specializes in this issue for the Federal Office of Labor. First, the jobs simply aren't there. Second, the extensive child-care system of the communist era, which enabled so many women to work, will probably be reduced, she says.

This outlook frightens east German women, who have a markedly different attitude toward work and family than their colleagues in west Germany.

Before the switch to a market economy, just over 90 percent of women of working age in east Germany held jobs. In west Germany, only 55 percent of women work, though this figure reflects an upward trend.

According to a poll published in January by the Infas organization in Bonn, only 3 percent of east German women would want to give up work and devote themselves totally to the family. In west Germany, 25 percent of them would want to.

"Being a housewife is not for me," says Jana Zocher, a 25-year-old mother about to begin a two-year course in tax law. Ms. Zocher was a chemical engineer at Microelectronic GmbH in Neuhaus, but when this semiconductor plant decided to trim its work force last July she was put on "short-time-work-zero," the German way of saying that someone is still on the payroll but is putting in zero hours and at a certain point will be officially laid off.

"Work for me is fun," says Zocher, "although not at the hours I used to have to work," which was a 10-hour day beginning at 6 a.m.

Meanwhile, she adds, "I can't imagine being dependent on my husband."

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