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Saeima’s Legal Affairs Office warns about potentially anti-Constitutional initiative

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Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RUBefore deciding on Welfare Ministry’s offer to reduce the length of payment period for unemployed benefits and their size, Latvia’s Saeima deputies are urged to check the legislative draft’s compliance with the Constitution, as concluded by Saeima’s Legal Affairs Office.

The Legal Affairs Office stresses that the reduction of the guaranteed social security benefit can be considered a limitation of rights backed by Section 109 of the Constitution of the Republic of Latvia. This is why it is the parliament’s duty to assess the legislative draft’s compliance with the Constitution and make sure the planned rights limitations matches the principle of proportionality.

The legislator has a duty to make sure the selected legislation was not picked arbitrarily and has rational and objective facts behind it, and that the reduction of the payment period length and benefit size is not disproportionate. It is also important to plan out possible alternatives to the regulation, Saeima lawyers suggest.

According to the Legal Affairs office, the legislative draft’s annotation does not provide a clear and unambiguous explanation for the draft’s compliance with Section 109 of the Constitution. This is why deputies are invited to request a more detailed explanation about the chosen regulation’s compliance with the Constitution, and ‘only once full confidence about both the unemployed benefit’s payment length and size reduction’s proportionality has been reaffirmed’, decide on its approval.

«Although the legal arbitrariness principle does not exclude the possibility for the state to amend existing regulation, the state must take into account the rights the preservation or implementation of which may create a legal, justified and comprehensive arbitrariness for residents,» Saeima’s Legal Affairs Office writes.

To protect residents in the event of legal arbitrariness, when a person receives the status of an unemployed person before new regulation has come to force, the legislative draft allows for expanding transition requirements and stating that a person who received unemployed status prior to 31 December 2019, unemployed benefits are to be provided, calculated and paid in accordance with legislative norms that were in force before the aforementioned date.

«Nevertheless, we wish to turn attention to the fact that this condition does not make it sufficiently clear which legislative norms are applicable in the event if a person loses their unemployed status within 12 months and then receives it again,» Saeima’s lawyers write, adding that the Constitutional Court has declared it is the parliament’s duty to make sure legislative norms are formulated in an unambiguous way and allow for correct interpretation. ‘We urge to clarify the proposed transition requirements to protect the rights of people who received unemployed status prior to 31 December 2018 and ones who received it again within 12 months of that,’ the Legal Affairs Office urges.

Welfare Ministry, meanwhile, sees no problems with the proposal’s compliance with the Constitution. Looking at compliance of proposed changes to Section 105 of the Constitution, which states that every person has the right to own property, the ministry says rights to own property include the rights of the state to limit use of property in accordance with public interests, which stems from the property’s social function – each owner has the duty to keep in mind the interests of others.

«A person’s paid state social insurance fees guarantee their right to receive support if they become unemployed. However, payment of the fee does not guarantee a specific amount. As long as the person is not provided support, the person has neither ownership rights for this service nor the right for a future benefit amount,» Welfare Ministry believes.

Looking at the compliance of proposed changes to Section 109 of the Constitution, which states that every person has the rights for social security in the event of retirement, inability to work, unemployment and other such cases, Welfare Ministry says the Constitutional Court has noted that the state has a duty to provide people with support in the even of unemployment and ensure the person is not left with no way to support themselves. Still, the ministry says the specific section of the Constitution does not detail a duty for the state to preserve for the person the same or equal income level they had prior to becoming unemployed.

«Unemployment insurance, like every other form of insurance, is based on a principle of solidarity. At the same time, it contributes to the longevity of the state social insurance special budget,» Welfare Ministry explains its position.

The ministry believes changes have a legitimate goal driving them – ensuring welfare for society, motivating unemployed persons to seek jobs more actively, as well as contributing to the longevity of the social insurance special budget. «Considering the goal – by promoting unemployed persons’ return to the labour market and thereby helping to resolve the labour force availability problem, it is also possible to divert funds to help raise minimal retirement pension calculation base, as well as state social insurance benefit for disabled people, it is believed to be sufficient public benefit, reaching which it is allowed to proportionally limit legal interests of private persons,» Welfare Ministry wrote to deputies.

As it is known, on 30 October the Saeima supported in the first reading amendments to the Law on Insurance in the Event of Unemployment, shortening the unemployed benefit payment period’s length from nine to eight calendar months.

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