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Thousands of foreigners losing jobs, legal status

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Škoda Auto has already begun laying off workers provided through agencies. (ČTK): Škoda Auto has already begun laying off workers provided through agencies. (ČTK)Škoda Auto has already begun laying off workers provided through agencies. (ČTK)

Zlín/Mladá Boleslav There is no doubt about it. The first quarter of the new year will bring a wave of layoffs and people without jobs.

Employment agencies are especially worried about this because their employees tend to be the first to go when there are layoffs. And most of the time the people in question are foreigners, for whom losing a job means a very problematic situation.

According to migration experts, a large proportion of those laid-off foreigners will remain in the Czech Republic and work illegally. But it is difficult to predict the scale of this problem.

The Ostrava employment agency Zetka Auto, which specialises in loaning out employees to automobile plants, has experienced layoffs first hand.

When Škoda Auto in Mladá Boleslav laid off 1,500 people, the agency lost nearly a third of its contracts, and it didn’t extend the contracts for hundreds of people. Most of them were foreigners. Where will they go? No one knows.

“Just here in Mladá Boleslav, Škoda laid off many of my countrymen,” says Vu Nguyen, who is from Vietnam and lives in Mladá Boleslav. “Others have work only until March, and then the agencies plan to move them somewhere else. But they don’t know where yet.”

What’s the situation like in Zetka now? “Partly cloudy,” says the agency’s lawyer, who didn’t want his name used in this article. “‘It’s only the beginning of the year. It will take a while before Škoda starts taking action.”

But it seems that agencies will continue laying off workers. “It will most likely continue in January. At the end of last year, Škoda Auto representatives said they want to reduce the number of agency workers to zero,” Pavla Dufková, who is in charge of the labour market at the Mladá Boleslav employment office, told Aktuálně.cz.

Laid off foreigners often find themselves in a very difficult situation. To come to the Czech Republic, they often had to borrow money and they and their families often have loans. If they lose a job, they must go back home, without being able to pay off their debts, or else they would be expelled from the country.

In spite of this, many foreigners prefer to remain here illegally. Some experts blame the state and job agencies.

It’s a scam

“It’s kind of a scam within the labour code,” says Pavel Čižinský from the Counselling Centre for Citizenship, Civil and Human Rights.

“Employees don’t make sign a contract directly with their employer, but with the agency. And only for the period of time for which they are to work for that given company. So they don’t have any direct relation to the company, only to the agency and when the company says, they’re not needed anymore, the agency lays them off,” explains Čižinský. In his opinion, this system is like “something from the 19th century”.

It’s difficult to estimate the extent of this problem. According to Čižinský, foreigners are often unable to find help themselves. Their illegal status once they lose their job makes the situation oven more difficult.

“The laws are too strict and the people find themselves in legal trouble very quickly,” says Čižinský.

The hundreds of people who face the threat of such a hopeless situation usually live in large dormitories on city outskirts. For instance in Malesice in the Plzeň region, which has a population of 600, now has 400 foreign workers living in a dormitory in a former chateau. If they are laid off, town officials say, they could become a security threat.

When Škoda Auto began laying off workers last autumn, Mladá Boleslav City Hall launched a project together with the local employment office, the city police, as well as the Interior Ministry and foreigners’ police, to monitor safety in the city. About 20 surveillance camera’s were installed around the city and city police increased its ranks.

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