Czech government seeks power to set quotas for foreign workers by decree

Illustrative photo: Filip Jandourek

The Czech government wants to gain full control over the number of work permits issued to foreigners. At its regular meeting on Wednesday, the cabinet is expected to endorse legislation that would allow the government to set by decree specific quotas for countries outside the European Union.

Illustrative photo: Filip Jandourek
The proposed system aims to simplify the processing of work permits for foreigners, to allow the Czech government respond quicker to developments on the labour market, and allow for a quick response in the face of “calamities” requiring a sudden influx of workers – such as the looming bark beetle infestation.

The Czech Republic has the lowest jobless rate in the EU, with vacancies now outstripping the number of registered unemployed. Meanwhile, an application for a one-year work permit can itself take a full year to process.

The country has in recent years in particular turned to Ukraine to help fill the gap, Czech Chamber of Commerce vice president Irena Bartoňová-Pálková noted on a working visit there in May, in part to assess the strain on the consulates:

Czech employees simply can’t be found on the labour market and that’s why we really need to recruit workers from abroad. We have primarily turned towards Ukraine because the country is culturally and traditionally close to us. It is a country which has something to offer, and the workers there really want to work. That’s why we have turned there first.”

This year, the government boosted the annual quota for Ukrainian workers to just shy of to 20,000. But that’s still a drop in the proverbial bucket, with the country missing an estimated quarter of a million workers. The shortage is particularly acute in the health care and agriculture sectors.

Irena Bartoňová-Pálková, photo: Czech Television
The Czech government has drawn inspiration from Poland, which managed to arrange short-term work visas for 700,000 Ukrainians in 2016 alone. The proposed legislation also aims to boost the capacity of Czech consulates to process the applications.

However, moves to raise quotas for foreign workers and to simplify procedures for hiring them are fiercely opposed by domestic labour unions, which fear an influx of cheap labour, and which bristle at the thought of empowering the government to set quotas by decree.

The government argues that the proposed legislation counters that threat, as it would allow the number of applications from any given country – or indeed from all of them – to be cut should the labour market situation suddenly change.