Czech government shakes up employment rules for foreign workers

Foto: Comisión Europea

The Czech government has moved to crack down on foreign workers who overstay their welcome in the country. At the same time it has set up a new system for attracting qualified foreign workers.

Photo: European Commission
The Czech jobless rate was 8.7 percent in July and like most European countries, there is a mismatch. There are plenty of unskilled people seeking work but no vacancies and jobs for skilled workers but no takers. The stick and carrot changes pushed through by the government on Wednesday seek to redress some of that problem.

The changes crack down on foreign unskilled workers who overstay their welcome. The economic crisis has significantly shrunk the total number of foreign workers brought in from developing countries, often for unskilled jobs. According to some estimates that is down from around 200,000 two years ago to around 60,000 now. But many are believed to have stayed on illegally after their jobs ended and their work permits expired. Some have found an ingenious way of legalizing their position by getting business registrations.

The new measures call for biometric passes for foreign workers from next May so that they can better be kept track of. They also put a lot of new responsibility on employers – usually employment agencies – to make sure that their hired help does not overstay its welcome. Agencies for example will now be responsible for the repatriation costs of workers who stay on illegally after their work or work permits have expired.

Milan Novák is director for Central and Eastern Europe at Grafton Recruitment in Prague. He says the government is unfairly penalizing jobs agencies and should be targeting the companies that are the direct source of demand for cheap labour from countries such as Vietnam.

“Agencies only work on behalf of employers. It makes no sense for an agency to bring a thousand people and have no jobs for them. They only work on behalf of the employer who demands the workforce. All of a sudden giving all of the responsibility for repatriation to the agency is not right.”

He also has doubts whether the new rules will really clamp down on the black sheep in the job agency sector saying they will always find ways to get round and break the rules.

The new rules also offer so-called blue cards for skilled foreigners to work in the country. The innovation here is that these work permits will be offered worldwide whereas the previous green card system mainly catered for developed countries outside of Europe. That means, for example, that skilled doctors or engineers can be sought in many African and Asian countries for the first time.

Mr. Novák says the Czech Republic requires that facility to fill gaps in its skills offer so the country remains attractive to foreign investors. But he believes that there was no pressing need for the change.

“If you see around Prague – and even cities such as Brno and Ostrava – there are a lot of foreigners working in very sophisticated industries like engineering and Information Technology. I am not sure it is going to accelerate that. I think it is a natural development and I did not really feel any need to accelerate this”