Wages and jobs have been pushed as one of the main themes of Czech parliamentary elections. And a proposal from the finance ministry to open the door to around 200,000 foreign workers has sparked fresh clashes over the subject.
The proposal to take 200,000 foreign workers into the country to fill vacant jobs in the Czech Republic was tabled by the Ministry of Finance for the rest of the government last Wednesday, just over a week ahead of elections to the lower house of parliament on October 20 and 21.
The ministry says the document was presented by ANO’s finance minister Ivan Pilný for the information of other Cabinet ministers with the idea of starting a debate, especially with the ministries most directly concerned such as the foreign ministry, interior ministry, and industry ministry. A spokesman said that the target is to deal with all aspects of the issue of recruiting foreign workers and come up a comprehensive policy. The document was not made public.
Where the workers could come from; what is the time frame for the recruitment; whether new procedures would be adopted; and whether priority would be given to workers qualified for certain sectors are all questions which the ministry does not want to discuss at the moment. The finance ministry spokesman described suggestions that the Czech Republic would once again seek workers from traditional sources of supply, such as Ukraine and Vietnam, as "speculation."
The Czech daily Právo reported that the finance ministry document warns that many Czech companies are losing orders because they can’t find the required workers and that some could even go bust if the situation continues.
Social Democrat election leader and foreign minister Lubomír Zaorálek referred on his Twitter account to a separate interview with the Právo newspaper in which he claimed that the finance ministry report was submitted without the normal prior consultation with other ministries.
Zaorálek added that some of the companies seeking to recruit foreign workers are offering monthly wages of around 13,500 crowns. The Czech minimum wage from the start of 2018 should rise to 12,200 crowns. September’s Czech unemployment fell to 3.8 percent with almost 285,000 unemployed and 200,000 vacancies at labour offices.
Zaorálek continued his criticism in a video presentation dealing with the issue: "We will be attracting slave workers who will also be robbed by the mafia which organises their recruitment. This is one vision for the Czech Republic: the influx of cheap foreign labour."
And he warned that the influx of foreign workers ignores the warnings given by the government’s own security body, the State Security Council, about the dangers which could be posed by large scale recruitment of foreign workers.
The arguments over whether the Czech Republic should solve some of its labour problems by recruiting more foreign workers has already been waging for months between the country’s main grouping of trades unions and employers with some steps tentative already taken, for example, to speed up the hiring of Ukrainian workers. The Association of Industry and Transport warns that the labour shortage looks like being long term with automisation and use of robots not happening as fast as first expected, partly because of the lack of human workers.