Thousands of foreign workers are now losing their jobs in Czech assembly plants owing to the financial crisis that has cut demand for their products. At the same time, employment offices are issuing work permits for further thousands of people who continue coming from faraway countries to work in the Czech Republic. As a result, an increasing number of Gastarbeiter disappear in the grey area of illegal labour market.
Hundreds of shady job agencies have established money-making businesses of hiring out foreign wage labourers. The only way to control the segment is by means of cooperation of all institutions and authorities registering the various groups of foreign workers, say almost all representatives of reliable agencies and other people in the business.
However, it will probably take a very long time for employment offices to connect their databases with the files of health insurance companies, police statistics, and the findings of customs and tax officers and factories employing foreigners to achieve more efficient supervision over foreign labourers and their work conditions.
There are about 400,000 foreigners working in the Czech Republic, and the business of hiring them out is flourishing regardless of the current crisis. The practice of hiring workers through private job agencies is not new and suits virtually everyone.
In the conditions of the “wild” Czech Republic, it suits various semi-legal job agencies that make millions on importing and hiring out unskilled foreigners. It suits factories that do not have to pay taxes and insurance for the foreign labourers and can hire and fire them overnight.
Many agencies charge some CZK 150 or even more for one hour of work of their labourers. If they have a pool of a thousand workers, it means a monthly income of a minimum of CZK 25.5 million – in the case of standard working hours.
But overtime work rises to enormous levels and is beyond the reach of any law. Otherwise it would have been impossible for an unnamed agency to remunerate some time ago a certain hard worker who had worked 409.5 hours in a single month. For working 13 hours a day and 30 days a month, she received a nice colour television set.
The more suspicious an agency, the lower costs it has – it pays no health insurance, avoids taxes by means of fictitiously low wages in labour contracts and by paying fictitious untaxed travel expenses. The state is sending more and more foreign police and customs officers to the battle, but still loses several billion crowns a year in mandatory insurance and taxes, a figure given as an estimate by trade union leader Josef Středula.
The foreigners are silent, and often put up with the bullying without saying a word. They need to make as much money as possible to repay the loans they took for the journey to the Czech Republic and to pay huge bribes to mafia members for visa and work permits and for faked medical certificates. And on top of that, they have to bring a fairly good sum of money to their home country.
Luboš Rejchrt of the Association of Personnel Services Providers is probably right when he says that it is essential to fundamentally improve the cooperation among all entities that regulate and supervise the work of foreigners. People from non-profit organisations also think that coordination of state authorities is the main problem. “We have a persistent feeling that things would be easier to do if somebody thought them out thoroughly,” said Jitka Polanská of the organisation People in Need.
Translated with permission by the Prague Daily Monitor.