Raid on online grocer highlights bigger foreign labour problem

Illustrative photo: European Commission

A police raid on the country’s second biggest online grocer, which resulted in the detention of 85 foreign nationals on suspicion of working illegally in the country, has thrown light on a much bigger problem. The record low unemployment rate and the restrictions on the number of Ukrainian workers allowed to enter the labour market has led some firms to employ Ukrainians with work permits for Poland. According to a member of the Association of Employment Agencies the case detected last week is merely the tip of the iceberg and in reality there are tens of thousands of Ukrainians with Polish tourist visas working in the Czech Republic today.

Illustrative photo: European Commission
When the foreign police raided the warehouse last week, detaining 85 Ukrainian nationals with valid work permits for Poland, the head of the company Tomáš Čupr denied breach of employment legislation saying the workers had been legally hired through an agency. He moreover accused the authorities of practicing a double standard, saying that Ukrainians sent by the same agency, with the same papers but working in other regions of the Czech Republic were tolerated.

The head of the Association of Employment Agencies Radovan Burkovic has now come out in his defence, telling Czech Radio that while Ukrainians with work permits for Poland were quietly tolerated in some regions, in others they were promptly expelled by the foreign police.

Another member of the association René Kuchár told Czech radio’s news desk that the case medialized in was a drop in the ocean. In reality there are tens of thousands of Ukrainians with Polish visas working in Czech companies he said.

According to Kuchár some firms in need of Ukrainian workers and unable to secure them fast enough because of restrictions on the number of work permits issued per month, are taking advantage of the fact that ever since the start of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine Poland has been exceedingly forthcoming in granting Ukrainians tourist visas and work permits in a show of solidarity with the country. With a visa for Poland they can basically work anywhere in the EU, but for it to be legal the Czech employer must employ them via a Polish agency. Kuchár claims that this practice has been going on for some time but there is now increasing friction between the Czech Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of the Interior over the interpretation of their status. While the labour ministry considers the practice legitimate, the foreign police and the interior ministry are taking a different line and expelling such workers from the country on the argument that they have a work permit for a different EU member state.

The fact that the raid on has brought the matter out into the open will likely necessitate a unified position on the issue and put more pressure on the Czech authorities to open up the Czech labour market to Ukrainian workers faster.