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NGO fights practice of labour “enslaved” by employers

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The practice of Czech employers “enslaving” foreign labourers from outside Europe, and even EU and Czech citizens, became widespread and continued to rise in the past decades, which is why the Centre for Foreigners’ Integration (CIC), a NGO, has stood up in defence of their rights, daily Pravo writes on Monday.

Originally, the hiring of workforce without any work contract, paying them only now and then and shunning the work safety measures applied to up to 75 percent of employees on the construction sites who came from the third countries. After some time, however, the employers extended the practice also to apply to EU citizens and most recently even to Czechs, Pravo writes.

“In 2014, the Labour Offices registered 260,999 foreigners who either worked or waited for a job in the Czech Republic. In recent years, they have made almost exactly 50 percent of all foreigners staying in the Czech Republic,” the paper quotes Vladislav Guenter, head of the CIC, which defends foreigners’ rights, including on the labour market.

“There are no data on how many foreign workers have faced the Labour Code violations. However, a survey the Evangelical Church of the Czech Brethren conducted on 200 labourers from Bulgaria, Romania and Moldavia in late 2014 showed that two thirds of them had problems concerning the labour law,” said Michaela Limova, from CIC.

The respondents spoke of unpaid salaries, the tithing of their pay and withholding of their passports by employers, of work conditions incompatible with law and threats addressed to them, Limova said.

According to the Interior Ministry, a total of 467,562 foreigners, including over 260,000 men and 200,000 women, live in the 10.5-million Czech Republic now. Further tens of thousands stay in the country illegally, Pravo writes.

For many years, foreign labourers neither claimed their rights nor did they seek support from Czech institutions. As a result, the unfavourable practices became widespread, the paper writes.

“The employers did this to the third-countries foreigners. When they started to take the same approach to labourers from the EU, nothing happened. At present, even Czechs allow themselves to be treated this way. The argument of the modern slaveholders is clear: if you dislike it, you can go, as a hundred of other people are waiting to get your job,” Guenter said.

Since the end of 2014, CIC has helped 167 “enslaved” foreign labourers. One of them was Rosta, from Latvia.

“I worked on a construction site for an Ukrainian client. To save money, he did not provide a respirator for me. As a result, I suffered from serious breathing troubles. When I reported that I was having pains, they withheld my salary and cancelled my health insurance. They failed to pay me for three months. Then they told me they had no work for me. I had to go. They gave me no documents to confirm my employment, nor did they give me the money they owed to me,” Rosta, who has lived in the Czech Republic for eight years, told Pravo.

As Rosta supports his wife and small daughter, he turned to CIC for help.

“They reported my case to the Labour Inspection. I received my salary…and also the labour documents, which enabled me to register at the Labour Office and find a new job. Now I work in normal conditions, receive my pay regularly and they cover the insurance for me. I am very happy,” Rosta, who works for the Czech branch of the Amazon company, is quoted as saying.

Radka Medkova, a lawyer who provides free consultations for exploited foreigners, said the Czech Labour Code sides with the employees, and the courts respect this.

However, it takes labourers, mainly foreign ones, very long to “wake up” and start claiming their rights, Medkova told Pravo.

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