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Czech workers leaving Britain

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Thousands of Czechs who have left for Great Britain in recent years with a vision of making money there are now coming back home. The golden era of workers “from the east” is over on the British islands because of the crisis and the cheap pound. “It is now much harder. There is not the visa problem now, but it is much more difficult to find a job. Those who find one have to get ready for a minimum salary,” said Kateřina Straková who left Britain a few months ago after working there for four years. She started there as an au-pair, then worked in a bar, and in the end managed a company on her own.

“People started to be dissatisfied with the work and with their salaries, but mainly with rising prices,” she said, explaining why Czech workers are leaving.

When Great Britain opened its labour market to Czechs four years and a half ago, thousands of people set out there almost immediately and thousands more followed in the years to come. “Five years ago, those who went to Britain with a minimum knowledge of the language got a job in a few weeks. Not many people would take that risk now,” Straková said.

The recession that has fully broken out in Britain is changing the conditions on the labour market considerably. Just in the second half of last year, 150,000 people lost their jobs. And economists from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development forecast that the number of unemployed will increase by 600,000 this year.

The Institute’s chief economist John Philpott said the British economy will reach its bottom in the second half of this year, which means the lay-offs will continue in 2010 – and the number of people who will lose jobs will therefore hover around a million.

That is a very bad news for foreigners because there are the first to go when a company decides to cut jobs. Czechs working in the UK say that employers still do not perceive workers from the east as they perceive Britons.

“It is very difficult for people who come to Britain now to find a new job. Jobs are scarce, people are many, and most employers require at least a year of experience in Britain regardless of the experience in the Czech Republic,” said programmer Stanislav Ošmera who has been living in Britain for three years and a half.

However, the situation will be worse even those who do find a job. Wages in Britain are still higher compared with the Czech Republic, but so are living costs. “The crisis and the cheap pound will affect mainly people who are saving money for something at home, for example repay a mortgage loan. One or two years ago it sufficed to save a relatively small amount of pounds because the exchange rate was for example 1:45. Now the rate is often below CZK 30 per pound, so they find it difficult to keep the pace of repayment,” Ošmera said.

Translated with permission by the Prague Daily Monitor.

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