“The positive impact is huge, and the public may not even realize it,” says Daniel Krištof, who has been the head of the General Directorate of the Labor Office since September, about working Ukrainians in the Czech Republic.
In this context, he points out that as soon as the conflict in Ukraine calms down and people start returning there, the Czech Republic will face even greater problems with a lack of employees than it does now. That is also why his office is currently looking for ways to direct people to fields where the need for people will be greatest.
The director of the Labor Office also talked about the changes that are taking place under his leadership (read here), and in the second part of the interview he describes that although the benefits paid are still increasing, according to him, there is enough money in the budget for this.
The number of benefits paid per month is setting records – specifically, for example, housing allowance. Are you running into any limits?
Not even on a political level, in the sense of how much money is spent on it?
There was an energy crisis and we also have humanitarian benefits. This is something the state budget had to deal with this year. At the same time, it must be said that we are in a situation where roughly 120,000 working Ukrainians contributed tens of billions of crowns to the state budget this year. The positive impact is huge and the public may not even realize it.
And it is obvious that thanks to them, thanks to these employees, many Czech companies have solved the problem of labor shortage and are prospering.
So people can keep asking, hasn’t this triggered a reaction in the form of some planned tightening?
Benefits are about to be simplified. We see that families who get into a problem apply for several benefits at once, and this is not entirely optimal from the point of view of the administration. A merger of some batches is in the works, which is quite correct. This will primarily be housing allowance, child allowance, subsistence allowance and housing supplement.
We are also preparing to simplify and actually cancel the much-criticized “paperwork”. Based on the consent of our client, we will be able to verify or request certain data directly from their bank or energy supplier. This means that our clients will not have to fill in a lot of information and go to other offices, and the whole process of assistance will be speeded up.
Will it be via bank identity?
We will have a specific channel to communicate with the bank or energy company. In no case do we want to audit the client’s account, we only want the information we need to assess a specific benefit, and the client will thus be sure that the data is correct.
Will it start working this year?
Legislation for financial hardship is in the process of being approved, and in the next step the ministry plans to extend it to other benefits, such as the housing allowance.
So from next year?
Hopefully. If it gets through the legislative process.
Layoffs? Optimization is ongoing
The considered layoffs are also being communicated with digitization all the time. At the end of 2022, the authorities had over 12,000 employees. Is it possible to say how much lower that number will be in 2024?
I have an estimate, but it’s hard to calculate exactly yet. We have only fully digitized the first batch, we need to digitize the housing allowance, which will tell us more about the less digitally literate part of the population as well.
We also decide how many branches we should realistically have in order to maintain a certain driving distance. And we will need capacities for a new generation of consulting.
So are you looking for new people at the same time?
It needs to be said, and it is important, that after the energy crisis has subsided, employment is the biggest problem. We simply do not have enough people – employees – which is the biggest barrier to the growth of the Czech economy. As soon as the conflict in Ukraine cools down, some of the war refugees will return home to Ukraine. At the same time, Czech companies will want to participate in the post-war reconstruction of Ukraine and will transfer employees there, so the problem will grow even more.
We will have to respond to this with well-adjusted advice that will get more people to the market. And the question is how much capacity do we need for that.
By consulting, do you mean that you will try to activate the remaining unemployed in the Czech Republic?
Not only that. Activation is already in progress. For example, we have programs to support the aging population, where people often lack sufficient digital literacy. At the same time, people at the employment offices work with schools to direct students to fields where there is a future need, and not where there is, on the contrary, no need. I am convinced that we are only at the beginning and we will have to do much more to get people into the labor market.
So before you analyze all this, some layoffs are not a question of next year, but rather of 2025?
It cannot be said that way. We optimize continuously. We have now optimized the employment agenda, and I would like to have clarity on the non-insurance social benefits agenda by the middle of next year at the latest.
When you mentioned retraining… we’ve been describing on the News List that it’s not working as smoothly as it first appeared, and people are complaining about being denied courses. Do you handle it?
We solve. When I joined, I appreciated that there is an e-shop where demand and supply meet, it’s fantastic that something like this was created in the first place. But there are two things that get in the way:
Subsidized training courses in the field of digitization, which we approve relatively quickly, and we approve most of them. The interested party must pay 18 percent of the price as a co-payment. And besides that, we have retraining, which we fully subsidize, but at the same time we monitor very carefully whether it is the right thing in the development of a specific person. There, the approval percentage is logically much lower.
These two categories of subsidized courses were not clearly separated on the e-shop, resulting in misunderstanding and justified frustration. But if you look at Jsmevkurzu.cz now, the two groups of courses already described are here, now we still need to make the e-shop more simple or guide people in a more comprehensible way to choose from the very beginning whether they want to help supplement their digital skills or retraining.
We don’t end there – we have other feedback from users that we want to incorporate and redesign the e-shop to fulfill its role even better.
Who is the new head of the key Labor Office
Daniel Krištof (44) received his doctorate at the Faculty of Arts of Charles University in Prague, where he studied Work and Organizational Psychology and Clinical Psychology. He has undergone accredited psychotherapy training and crisis intervention training.
He worked for the consulting company Deloitte for ten years, where he managed the transformation of large companies. He was in the top management of important companies such as ČEZ Prodej, Česká spořitelna and Direct pojišťovna.
He managed the ČEZ Academy, which helps people save energy with the help of leading Czech experts.