Social geographer: Majority of Ukrainian refugees employed far below their skill level

The war in Ukraine has been raging for almost two years, and refugees continue to arrive in Czechia. Although the majority find employment, it is often in precarious conditions, and over 60 percent of economically active Ukrainian refugees are working in jobs well below their qualification level, the government’s commissioner for human rights, Klára Šimáčková Laurenčíková, said this week.

Klára Šimáčková Laurenčíková | Photo: Czech Television

As the second anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine approaches, refugees continue to arrive in Czechia – one thousand new arrivals each week, on average. And the ones that have already been here for months or years anxiously wait to find out if and when the war will end – and on whose terms.

But the lack of certainty is having knock-on effects on their decisions about employment, says social geographer Dušan Drbohlav – like whether or not they should invest in retraining.

“The refugees themselves don’t know whether it makes sense to invest in integrating. They don’t know whether they will return to Ukraine or not. They are in limbo, watching and waiting and wondering whether to invest everything into integrating, or whether to just take whichever job comes up and wait to return home.”

Other factors are also at play – the lack of retraining courses available, a hefty bureaucratic procedure for getting Ukrainian qualifications recognised in Czechia, and sometimes a lack of sufficient Czech language skills on the part of refugees. But the result of all these factors together is that the majority of Ukrainian refugees who are in work are employed in jobs far below what they are capable of.

Photo: Alexis Rosenzweig,  Radio Prague International

“The failure is that these are mostly highly educated women who are doing jobs that do not correspond to their qualifications and profession. They are doing unskilled, manual labour jobs that are not at all intellectually demanding. The utilisation of human capital is low.”

Worse, some find employment through agencies that end up giving them jobs on the black market – unregulated and outside of any jurisdiction.

“One of the worst things that can happen is when they get employed by an agency on the black market. Then the conditions for both the worker and the state are dismal. No taxes are levied and the employee is outside of any protection by the state.”

Dušan Drbohlav | Photo: Czech Television

Drbohlav says that in some cases, the conditions they are working in are untenable.

“There was a report done by the NGO Diakonie Západ for the Labour Ministry. It’s like reading a horror story. Ukrainian refugees are becoming modern-day slaves and their life circumstances are catastrophic. They came here under the stress of war and here they are having to undergo a second battle. Some employers treat them unbelievably badly.”

From September, Ukrainian refugees will no longer receive housing support – something that the geographer sees as a potential risk for vulnerable groups such as pregnant women, those caring for children under six years of age, and the elderly.

“The problem is that very often they have some income, they are trying to succeed on the labour market. But as a result, they don't get housing support. A Czech citizen would receive help in such a situation, but the refugees do not fit into the social benefits system, so there is a risk that about 3,000 people in Prague alone could find themselves in a critical situation.”

Authors: Anna Fodor , Zita Senková | Source:
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