Study to map unemployment, suggest possible solutions to disadvantages faced by Roma on Czech labour market

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This week the Minister for Minorities and Human Rights Džamila Stehlíková announced the preliminary results of an ongoing study on difficulties faced by the Roma on the Czech labour market. Unemployment among many Roma remains high although the Czech average overall it is lower than the European Union’s. Czech officials hope they will be able to map out long-term solutions to help curb unemployment and to limit the number of drop-outs in schools in marginalised communities. They also hope to reinforce new skills to improve chances on the jobs market.

Christian Bodewig is an economist for the World Bank involved in the project:

“The important thing to note in the Czech Republic, like in many other countries in the region, there is very little data on Roma, because there is no breakdown of enrolment in schools or participation on the labour market by ethnic group. So it’s very difficult to actually say in detail - statistically sound detail – what the situation looks like. As part of this research we are conducting a survey amongst marginalised localities around the Czech Republic, where many Roma reside, in order to get some hard data as to how difficult the situation really is.

“We know that overall there was a high number of Romany kids in special schools. for children with lower learning abilities. A lot of Roma who were in these schools, who left after the 9th grade, don’t have the skills to make it on the labour market and also lack confidence.”

You seemed to suggest that a number of different solutions needed to be applied, on the one hand making unemployment benefits less attractive, on the other extending a stronger helping hand.

“The message is that you need to have a balance: for individuals to be motivated on the one hand, but also a labour office capable of helping people with multiple disadvantages on the other. There is no single important reason why many Roma don’t do well on the labour market: it’s not just the skill level, there are many factors that come together. For example, the availability of child care. If there are no kindergartens in communities where many Roma live, then what can they do? You can’t work and look after your child at the same time.

“Another element is debt. Many want to work but have multiple debt and don’t know how to deal with it, worried that if they accept a job – even if it pays a little better than unemployment benefits – the debt collectors will immediately show up and take everything away. The solution to this is a very integrated and targeted and individual approach, where the schools and the labour office and social welfare come together. You know, you can easily see how people get into a vicious cycle where they can’t deal with it anymore. Even if you wanted to, there’s nobody there at this current point who is really effectively trying to help you.

“At the end of the day we’re not talking about a huge number of people – the group is relatively small – who are really lagging behind. But in order to provide more equal opportunities in the Czech Republic as a whole, you need to really look at the specific group which is really way behind.”