Foreign workers still face widespread abuse on the labour market

Illustrative photo: Kristýna Maková

There are presently over 460,000 foreigners living and working in the Czech Republic and tens of thousands more who are here illegally. Their status, poor Czech or lack of information about the country’s labour code makes them vulnerable to potential abuse on the labour market. In 2014 the Centre for Integration of Foreigners launched a project which aims to both help individual foreign workers fight for their rights and to raise awareness about the problem in Czech society. The NGO’s Michaela Límová says abuse on the labour market is still one of the most common problems addressed.

Illustrative photo: Kristýna Maková
“Foreigners often turn to us with complaints about violations of the Labour Code in the Czech Republic. Especially its cases in which the employer does not pay their wages, safety issues at the workplace, employers often fail to provide paid holidays and so on. In some cases it really seems that they hired these people because they know that they are vulnerable and there is little probability that they would complain or find help.”

And do they seek help?

“They do eventually, but we know from them that it takes them a long time to make up their minds, they somehow keep hoping that the situation will improve by itself. So they would have to be really desperate to take action and then it depends on whether they find someone who will tell them about us.”

So what are the authorities doing to address the problem? Are there not inspections? How come employers get away with this?

“Well, the Labour Code is very strong in this country and it favours employees, so it is really a question of enforcing the law. And that is why we are engaging in this project – in order to let state institutions know that this is a widespread problem and that they should act at their own initiative and engage in prevention because the information that we have from NGOs and surveys suggests that up to one third of employees who have these problems. We want that heard - we want to be a voice for the migrant workers.”

What areas of enterprise does this problem most concern?

Illustrative photo: Office of Czech Government
“It is especially widespread in the construction industry, then restaurants and catering services and then also logistics and warehouses. There are the main three areas.”

How many of these cases actually end up in court?

“Not many, because people are afraid. They say they [their employers] know where they live and that they are afraid they would act against them. So most of them are afraid to sue the company or complain. They say they just want this to be over and to find another job.”