Crisis, layoffs, unemployment, bailout... words that are hard to ignore these days. To help better understand the impact of the crisis on daily life, The Observers turns to a panel of people of various nationalities and profiles who all have one thing in common - they're out of work.

 

Sophie, a Frenchwoman living in London, UK, was fired so abruptly that she wasn't even allowed to go back to her office to get her personal belongings.

In the US, Don Godfrey's contract at a Ford plant was terminated on the same day that his wife was put out of work. But he still feels privileged because the couple gets unemployment benefits.

And Emilio, who lives in Spain, has to rely on his wife's income of 500 euros a month until he's hired by a new construction site.

Each one of them has a personal story to tell: financial troubles, frustrated professional plans and the relentless hunt for a job. We'll be following them throughout 2009 and, hopefully, seeing them return to work.

"I had to describe my coat, my wallet and my iPod"

Sophie D., 31, had been working at Barclays PLC as a contract lawyer. She wasn't even allowed to go back to her desk the day she was laid off.

I got a call from HR on a Friday afternoon asking me to go down to the meeting room. That's when I got it... Barclays management had announced a layoff plan a few weeks earlier. They had warned that seven people out of 150 were concerned but we didn't know who they were.

They asked to see us one by one. I met with the head of legal services and the HR representative. They went through the procedure and told me that I was one of seven people who were ‘redundant' - meaning that I was part of the new round of layoffs but that they could hire me back within a period of three months if there was someone to replace. I know that something similar happened at BNP Paribas and that several people who had been fired were then asked to come back.

When I left the room, I was told that "from the moment you leave this room, your computer will be locked, you won't be granted access to it any more and you won't be returning to your office. Can you give a description of the personal belongings you want to take with you?"... So I had to describe my coat, my wallet and my iPod. The secretary went to fetch them. They said that the rest would come through a courier. That's a very common thing in finance. But being a lawyer, I didn't think that it would happen to me and I don't really appreciate the method.

I'm getting paid for the next three months. I also qualify for redundancy payment based on my seniority. It's not bad compared to others. But I also heard that the money is a lot less than last year, for instance."