They got a job, settled in a company dormitory. This autumn, a Czech married couple got employed as agency workers.
“I would like to warn other people. The agency, and I believe it is not the only one, just takes advantage of people’s difficult situations,” says Erika Bartošová, explaining why she and her husband Tibor decided to talk about their experiences.
They describe that they still don’t really know what contract they signed. In any case, the cooperation ended after two months with mutual dissatisfaction: the agency fired them, and Erik was in for an unpleasant surprise when, in the end, he did not receive paid sick leave.
Roman Moulis, co-owner of the agency AWA Partners, for which the couple worked, rejects the criticism and talks about revenge. “The moment they stop working for us, they tend to make things up,” he responds.
But the workers of non-profit organizations warn that the problem of labor exploitation in the Czech Republic is swelling, especially with the influx of war refugees. For example, People in Need therefore allocated a team of people this year who focus on labor exploitation.
Fifty-somethings can’t be too picky
Erika and Tibor moved to Pilsen because they wanted to be closer to their children. They thought that finding a job would not be a problem. But they bumped into each other, supposedly because they are in their fifties.
“I foolishly thought that I would have no problem finding a job. But it was a big problem,” says Erika.
In the end, they only got work as agency workers with a fixed rate of 135 crowns per hour. However, they were surprised that they were signing the contract on a tablet and, according to them, they had no chance to read what they were signing.
“In a situation where you’re looking for work and accommodation and you’re at a loss, you don’t solve it that way,” explains Tibor.
His wife still tried to get the contract. “When we asked about it, they told me that they would send it to an email. But it hasn’t happened until today,” he claims.
According to them, the problem was also at the workplace where they processed packages for Lexxoss. Erika stood by the belt, scanning the items and putting them into packages, and Tibor lined the full boxes with paper.
“Of the three hundred employees, about ten were Czechs. The rest are Ukrainians,” Erika describes, talking about how the agency’s workers were treated shamefully.
“Maybe because there were only Ukrainians there, they insulted us so much. Every day there was a so-called meeting where they showed us on the screen, for example, how to use toilet paper. It offended us. It can’t be described, but you have to experience it,” describes the former agency worker.
The editors of Seznam Zpráv tried to contact the German management of Lexxoss, but they did not respond by the deadline.
A Saturday without work is three absences
The couple describes being scrutinized at work for any unpaid downtime.
“I worked for about half an hour and then there was nothing left to do. The crates did not move. You must not wait, you must not stand. Either you had to write down the downtime, or I had to walk around the hall looking for another job. But when I found one, I usually took it from someone else, for example when he went to the toilet,” she says.
“When I raised my eyes for just a second, they were yelling at me, what am I supposed to do,” she describes the level of pressure.
Erik and Tibor also complain that they were warned at the beginning that they would sometimes have to work on Saturdays. “But they wanted it every Saturday and twelve o’clock. And the master shouted at us that whoever does not go will have three absences for Saturday. How can he give three days of absence in one day?” the spouses are angry and think that the Ukrainians are either afraid to speak up or do not know that the employer cannot demand it from them.
“They used to go there sick, tired… One lady fell there from exhaustion. Nobody cared,” the woman describes.
Erika admits that she could no longer cope with the pace of work and began to suffer from swollen feet. The second month she practically stopped going to work due to pneumonia. However, he does not directly relate the illness to work.
And another surprise came for the couple. Via SMS, they received information from the agency that the price – six thousand per person – for accommodation is doubled if the person does not work.
In conclusion, Erika talks about the fact that, although she was employed, she was not reimbursed any sick pay. According to her, because her employer did not report her to the office.
We are not slavers, responds the representative of the agency
The married couple was employed by the employment agency AWA Partners. Its co-owner Roman Moulis perceives criticism as revenge, as was already said in the introduction. According to him, it happens that the workers feel that the agency is a parasite on them. But he himself talks about the fact that agencies that provide workers increase the competitiveness of the Czech Republic.
He explains the higher price for housing in the event of illness by the fact that employees have partially subsidized housing. “From the company where you have a worker assigned, you receive an hourly rate for an hour of work done by him. The budget includes the cost of the worker’s wages, accommodation and transport. But it follows that they only reimburse us when they go to work. If you don’t go to work, the subsidized price of accommodation falls,” explains the logic of more expensive housing for the sick.
He flatly denies that workers are actually forced to go to work on Saturdays. “It’s nonsense. We are not slavers. We follow the Employment Act. It’s our business and we can’t act like the Wild West,” he responds.
Similarly, the co-owner of the agency denies in general that they do not pay contributions for employees.
“We cannot afford not to have a worker who is not registered for social and health care. We are periodically, regularly and randomly inspected by the labor inspectorate. And the labor inspectorate investigates whether a contract has been concluded and they themselves ask the social security administration. There, it would fall out at the very beginning of the inspection,” defends Roman Moulis.
Unpaid levies are popping up, experts say
However, the interviewed workers of non-profit organizations talk about the fact that they encounter the non-payment of social and health insurance by agency workers.
“We have statements from insurance companies for unpaid insurance. For example, we have a client who started in March and was not paid for health insurance until August, when he finished there. He has a debt there,” says Eva Malá, head of the labor exploitation agenda at People in Need.
By the way, the non-profit organization decided to focus on the issue of labor exploitation this year, because it currently perceives it as a serious problem in the Czech Republic.
Even the coordinator of the Ukrainian activities of Diakonie Západ and an expert on the practices of employment agencies, who, however, did not wish to publish his name due to fears for his safety, that he discovers cases of non-payment of health and, above all, social insurance.
At the end of November, the Senate approved an amendment to the Employment Act to tighten the definition of illegal work and regulate agency employment.
The new standard states 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.