Criticism in Austria over Czech nurses expelled for working illegally
A Czech nurse was recently deported from Austria, after the local police discovered he'd been working without a permit. But he's not the only one - under a mutually beneficial but highly unofficial arrangement, thousands of fully qualified Czech and Slovak nurses have been working - illegally - with the elderly and disabled. Radio Prague's Nicole Klement spoke with Doris Fischer from Radio Austria International in Linz, Upper Austria, where the story first broke...
"The problem arose when one Czech - a male nurse caring for an elderly, paralysed person in Upper Austria - was asked to leave the country, and the person he cared for asked his mayor to help him. That's how the whole affair began, because the mayor of the town went to the press and told us about the problem, and that there were about 6,000 alien workers in Austria caring for sick and elderly people."
These illegal workers cross the border as tourists but find employment usually as care providers for severely ill or disabled patients. For board, lodging and a modest wage these nurses will live in the patient's home - on call round the clock. Many Austrian carers simply refuse to do the job for the same money.
"There are Austrians who can do the same job, but not for the same wage. The Czech workers work for pocket money, they live with the persons they're caring for and they eat there, live there, and just get around 20,000 schillings pocket money per month, which is much cheaper than any Austrian could be hired for."
Everyone - at least everyone except the Austrian police - seem happy with the arrangement: Czech nurses can earn significantly more than they would at home, Austrian institutions save on the cost of caring for the chronically ill, and patients are able to stay home and receive care. Even the local social affairs authority turned a blind eye to the practice - they said it was not their business to ask who was looking after the elderly. All they wanted was the 50,000 people on disability pensions in the province to be well cared for. Though one would expect outrage from organisations responsible for protecting Austrian workers, Doris Fischer says it hasn't surfaced - yet.
"There hasn't been any comment by the nurses' unions, because they know that there is a problem in caring for paralysed or handicapped people who want to stay at home. There are not enough nurses, mainly, and they are very expensive. And Austrian law says they can't care for the person 24 hours a day. They have to go home, they have to leave, they have to have their time off. And the Czech nurses, they stay with the person 24 hours a day."
So the question is- will more Czech nurses be deported from Austria?
"I've spoken to a local member of government and he said they're basically looking away from the problem - officially - because they know they can't do anything about it. Those care workers and nurses are very important to the people they care for, and there is no way Austria can replace them right now. There is some need to find legalisation, but they can't do it because it makes it very expensive.
Doris Fischer from Radio Austria International, speaking to my colleague Nicole Klement from Linz in Austria.