Opening debate on the 'regularisation' of illegal workers

The shadow economy of the Czech Republic is thought to employ hundreds of thousands of undocumented workers. They come mainly from Ukraine and Slovakia, Vietnam and Russia. On Tuesday --just as the Interior Ministry was outlining plans to close several asylum centres due to dwindling numbers of refugees-- Czech non-profit organisations issued a clarion call for the "regularisation" of illegal workers.

While there is no common migration and asylum policy in the European Union, a preferred terminology is widely in place: "regularisation of irregular workers" is the unweighty Brussels usage: terms like "amnesty" tend to alarm the general public, who fear hordes of additional immigrants will descend upon the labour markets. But throughout Europe regularisation has proved a useful measure for getting illegal workers on the tax rolls, be they Brazilians in Portugal, or Afghans in the United Kingdom.

These are among the findings of a new comparative study by five Czech NGOs on the pros and cons of regularisation. The original intent was to draft legislation that would help establish a Czech procedure for regularisation, says study co-author Pavla Burdova-Hradecna, a lawyer for the Prague-based Counselling Centre for Refugees.

Photo: archive of CRo 7 - Radio Prague
"We would like to start a debate, first of all. In the beginning, we thought we could propose an amendment to the Alien law, or [related] laws, but we found that there was no political will; nobody wants to hear it. As you could see today, only non-governmental organizations were for regularization, and all these members from the Interior Ministry or [Labour and] Social Affairs - they were against it."

In fact, Eva Smejkalova, a representative from the labour ministry on hand for the presentation of the report on Tuesday, said the government is open to the idea of regularising illegal workers, but is concentrating on attracting skilled labourers --with legal permission to work here from the start. In the meantime, says Dr Jan Cernik of the organisation Sociopolis, the highly developed Czech shadow economy continues to grow.

"[As for a] regularisation campaign in the Czech Republic - it's the beginning of discussion here; it's a new issue for us, and the legal framework is not ready to accept foreigners here. Ukrainians are the biggest group of migrants and the 'black' labour market is highly developed here, unfortunately," Dr Cernik says.

Another report co-author, lawyer Pavel Cizinsky of the non-profit citizens' rights group Poradna, outlined in great detail scores of ad hoc measures taken throughout Europe to get irregular migrants on the tax rolls. Whether or not it chooses to go that route, he argues the Czech Republic should be prepared to do so.

"Regularisations are normal. It's not [necessarily] a positive thing, a positive aspect of European migration politics, but they are normal - and the Czech Republic now is somewhere between the states like Germany and Austria, which do not apply regularizations at all, and other Western European states which are not so [strict on definitions] of legal or illegal workers," Mr Cizinsky says.

"I think that the law can also be an instrument for achieving some political and useful social aims, some goals. And I think the Czech Republic should apply some regularisations -- because restrictions alone don't work."