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Právo: Czech firms employ convicts to fill workforce gap

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Prague, April 20 (CTK) – Czech firms have been increasingly choosing employees from among prison inmates in a situation where the country suffers from a shortage of workforce, daily Pravo wrote on Thursday, adding that the trend benefits both the firms and the prisoners involved.

At present, only 54 percent of convicts who are capable of working have a job, but companies’ interest in them has been growing. In this connection, companies often transfer production straight into prison facilities or in their close vicinity, the daily writes.

The practice reduces the companies’ spending on manual workers’ pay. The convicts, on their part, can use their earnings to repay debts or improve their stay in prison, the paper writes.

It describes the situation in the Jirice prison, central Bohemia, where 330 of the total of 800 inmates have jobs. Some do cooking and cleaning in the prison. Some work for Bilsing Automation, a leading producer of manipulation arms for the car-making industry, and others for a joiner’s firm that produces furniture mainly for courts and ministries.

Jiri Stegl, the Czech Prison Service’s coordinator of the employment of convicts, told Pravo that every prisoner has the duty to work if their health and age allow it.

Convicts can also attend apprenticeship courses in prison to upgrade their professional qualification.

“This is a way to help curb the repeat offence rate and the number of convicts returning to prison. We believe that if they acquire work habits, they will learn what they experienced never before and earn some money,” Stegl is quoted as saying.

He said the Prison Service can supply stable workforce on companies’ request. In addition, the convicts have no leave or days off to take, he said.

“The demand for manpower is enormous now. We even have been forced to decline some requests for workers from among convicts,” Stegl said.

Bilsing Automation manager Alena Pavelkova told the paper that the company needs a kind of auxiliary workers who would be too expensive if they were qualified civilian employees, and that the use of convicts’ labour is an optimal solution.

There are some 20,000 prisoners in the 10.5-million Czech Republic, 15,000 of whom are capable of work. However, only a half of them have jobs – about 6,000 directly in prisons and 2,000 outside, Pravo writes.

They sort wastes, pack products, do needlework or fill boxes of chocolates. The last mentioned case is known from the women’s prison in Svetla nad Sazavou, central Bohemia, where a Belgian firm built its production hall next to the prison facility, Pravo writes.

A problem is that some firms want prisoners to work in their premises outside the prison, but there are only few such inmates who may leave the prison for work, Stegl said.

Working prisoners are obliged to pay the costs of their stay in prison, which is 45 crowns per head a day or maximally 1,500 crowns a month, said Petr Suk, the Jirice prison director.

However, this sum, defined by law, does not correspond to the real costs of prison service. The state’s real spending on each prisoner is up to 1,200 crowns a day, Suk said, adding that most working inmates’ average monthly gross pay is 4,500 crowns.

No statistics exist yet to show how many inmates kept working with the given companies after being released from prison, Pravo writes.

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