Mrs. Vita from Kharkov, currently living in a hostel in Prague, encountered a well-thought-out way her employer avoided paying her salary. After several months of dragging his feet, he sent the money to her account, but the incoming payment was immediately blocked.
Or another complicated case: The refugee worked happily in a warehouse as an agency worker, but only until she had an accident. “It turned out that the agency reports minimum income for the lady, which does not establish participation in health insurance. So the lady ended up without the right to sick leave. Although she received an average of 20,000 crowns every month, they reported that she receives approximately 2,500 crowns,” the coordinator of the Ukrainian activities of Diakonie Západ, who works in the Pilsen region and deals with specific cases, describes to Seznam Zprávám. He did not want to be named out of concern for his safety.
According to the interviewed experts who work with refugees, similar crimes are increasing. This is also evidenced by the data of the State Office of Labor Inspection, which are available to the Report List.
Most often, everything is connected with illegal employment agencies, i.e. companies that, without the necessary permits and often without compliance with the labor code, mediate refugees to other businesses as cheap labor.
One of the biggest topics
Because of the problem, the People in Need organization decided to establish a separate labor exploitation agenda, which is led by Eva Malá. “It is one of the biggest topics in the entire Czech Republic. It is more in the light thanks to the Ukrainian migration wave, but it concerns people of different nationalities and is broad-spectrum,” he describes.
The International Organization for Refugees also perceives the problem. “Legally operating agencies are generally threatened by this situation,” says Filip Stowasser.
“Very often it happens as an order,” explains Magda Faltová, director of the Association for Integration and Migration. “Temporary assignment is prohibited for migrants – this is a situation where people are employed by an agency and assigned temporarily to different factories. But then there are situations when a company enters into a contract with another company to supply them with, for example, steering wheels. And actually it also takes place at their workplace in the factory, but it doesn’t look like a temporary assignment,” he explains.
Such workers often do not have valid contracts, their working hours are not monitored, and they are not paid overtime.
“Once you have a supplier, you let him into the company, and as far as the employer’s obligations are concerned, nothing is resolved – whether the workers are there for 12 or 16 hours, whether they work without work shoes and clothing, whether they have been trained, whether they have passed a medical examination . That person is cheap to enter, cheap during the work and cheap at the end as well,” explains the head of the Association of Employment Agencies, Ivan Burkovič, why this workforce is so attractive.
Magda Faltová adds that similar agencies are often the easiest way to work for refugees, also because they are often owned by migrants. “They don’t need the Czech language, everyone speaks Ukrainian. And they targeted them very quickly. Once you start, it’s very difficult to stop,” he says.
One hundred million in fines
According to the data of the State Office of Labor Inspection, it was the sanctions for disguised mediated employment that grew the most.
Last year, 128 fines totaling nearly 68 million crowns were issued. This year, 157 of them fell by October 26, for 96.5 million crowns.
In other categories, on the other hand, fines issued in the field of employment of people with temporary protection or foreigners tend to stagnate or even decrease in a year-on-year comparison.
For example, last year there were 117 fines for 5.7 million due to the working conditions of people with temporary protection, this year there were 75 fines totaling 2.1 million as of October 9.
Last year, however, the checks only started during the year after Russia invaded Ukraine at the end of February and launched a massive movement of war refugees.
While last year the average fine was almost 49,000, this year it is 28,400 crowns.
“I believe that it is lower, because employers are already more informed after previous inspections and their media coverage,” explains the trend, the spokesman of the labor inspection, Richard Kolibač.
Most often this year, the inspection encountered problems related to non-fulfillment of the information and record-keeping obligations towards the Labor Office. In second place is the enabling of illegal work.
In recent years, the number of caught illegal workers from third countries, including Ukraine, has also been decreasing. In 2018, there were almost 3,600 of them, this year 1,852.
The data thus shows what is confirmed by the stories of the refugees themselves or experts working with them: With the arrival of war refugees, who have temporary protection and theoretically free access to the Czech labor market, possible exploitation of migrants is more subtle.
One pays social security, the other tasks, the third has a contract
The coordinator of the Ukrainian activities of Diakonia Západ equates disguised employment with exploitation.
“We see it as a form of manipulation and exploitation of people entering the labor market. Especially currently, it is about refugees from Ukraine, even though these practices occurred long before that,” he says.
It is said that he most often encounters a chain of intertwined entities, which are often connected to a legal employment agency. And as in the opening story, everything usually works until the refugees run into some kind of problem.
“The moment they get sick, it turns out that the insurance wasn’t paid for them, and then we find out who they belong to through the contracts. Very often we come to the point where it is not clear who they worked for. Health insurance was paid by one entity, they had a contract with another, social insurance was paid by no one or a third entity, and work instructions were given by a person from yet another entity,” he tries to untangle the complex structures.
Radovan Burkovič thinks that the data from the inspection are only the tip of the iceberg. “There aren’t that many inspectors. Wherever we go, they tell us that we are expensive, that they can get workers cheaper,” says the president of the Association of Employment Agencies and at the same time the executive of one of the employment agencies.
In principle, Eva Malá from People in Need also agrees with him. “What’s most alarming is the number of people this is happening to, and the fact that the system can’t actually do anything about it at the moment. People have no recourse, nowhere to turn for help. They are sometimes threatened by the employer, so they are afraid to solve the matter officially. The result is uncertain, the journey is long and full of fear,” he outlines.
Will the law bring change?
According to Magda Faltová from the Association for Integration and Migration, the problem is that uncovering covert agencies is more complicated than supervising legal agencies. “Migrants have no reason to cooperate with the labor inspectorate. They cannot collect the owed wages, sanctioning the employer will not bring anything to the migrant, only that he will lose his job,” he points out.
Filip Stowasser from the International Organization for Refugees then talks about the need to transfer responsibility for unfair practices to the end users, i.e. employers. “Which is no easy task. For many employers, the use of covert agencies is a matter of competitiveness and therefore survival. The situation calls for a really complex and sophisticated solution,” he says.
Burkovič sees hope in the currently discussed amendment to the Employment Act. It passed the third reading in the House of Representatives on Friday and is headed to the Senate.
The new standard adds that it is not only the mere enabling of illegal work – that is, for example, through contracts directly in the company – that is problematic, but also repeated non-cooperation during labor inspection checks. According to Burkovič, in the factories they make the inspectors wait a long time before they let them into the workplace, and in the meantime they take the illegal workers away.
According to the new law, the length of stay at the workplace should also cease to play an important role in the assessment, because currently illegal work is more likely to be considered to be that which shows signs of longer-term employment.