Czech companies increasingly relying on foreign workers

Illustrative photo: archive of Czech Government

The Czech Republic’s economic boom has left many companies short-staffed and desperately seeking employees in order to be able to meet demand. Despite the fact that Czech labour offices currently register 390 thousand unemployed, companies are increasingly dependent on foreign labour.

Illustrative photo: archive of Czech Government
The construction company Abydos based in Cheb, near the Czech-German border, has more orders than it can take. With 200 employees, it employs 40 Romanian workers and could give jobs to another 50 people on the spot. However Czech labour offices are unable to help and so the company operates its own recruitment office in Romania. Many others, such as pencil maker Koh-i-noor, are in a similar position. With new orders from the US, the company is looking for foreign employees who would enable it to operate a third shift. The underwear company Triola is desperately trying to secure work permits for a group of Vietnamese seamstresses who would help it fulfil its contracts. The company management warns that unless it can secure foreign workers the firm’s future could be at stake.

These and other firms all blame the government for their present problems. While the cabinet approved a faster processing of visas for Ukrainian workers, who make up the backbone of the Czech construction industry, the drive to open the market to more foreign workers centred mainly around highly-skilled staff, not the manual workers that many companies require. So companies seek workers abroad themselves, using various means to do so, setting up recruitment offices, holding recruitment days in selected countries and Skyping with potential candidates. Even when they are successful, visas and work permits sometimes present a problem, especially for workers from countries such as Vietnam or Mongolia.

Lukáš Kovanda, chief economist at Roklen Financial Group, says that while the companies in question face genuine problems they themselves are partly to blame.

Lukáš Kovanda,  photo: archive of Lukáš Kovanda
“The simple solution to this – and one that employers don’t like to hear- is to increase wages. Our employers are still stuck in the days of the economic crisis when people would knock on their door and ask for work. But things have changed. Unemployment is low and companies themselves must be active in securing the workers they need –even from rival firms. And how else do you do that but to offer them better pay and more perks?”

Many employers counter that they are paying what they can afford to pay in view of the global competition and their efforts to secure cheap labour from abroad are helping to preserve the jobs of hundreds of Czech employees in other positions as well as boosting Czech economic growth. Between 2014 and 2015 companies brought an additional 49 thousand foreign workers to the country and, while the economic boom lasts, the trend is expected to continue.