End of civic service poses problems for organisations used to cheap labour

03-06-2004

At the beginning of 2005 the Czech Army will become fully professional, welcome news for young Czech men, who will no longer have to do compulsory military service. The alternative to military duty - civic service - is also coming to an end. That will mean problems, however, for the organisations which have been relying on such cheap labour for years.

From December 22 civic service will, like military duty, cease to exist in the Czech Republic, under a bill approved by the government on Wednesday. The 9,000 or so young men currently doing civic service get paid around 3,000 crowns a month, which is half the minimum wage.

Civic serviceCivic service The young men, known as civilkari in Czech, have a lot of leeway in choosing where they would like to do their year and a half's civic duty, and over 5,000 of them work in libraries, educational institutions, sports clubs or heritage sites, such as castles.

Others, however, work in hospitals and old people's homes, often doing some of the most unpleasant of tasks, such as washing patients and emptying bedpans. And that must be a humbling task for somebody who has, for instance, just earned a degree in law.

Many organisations have come to rely on this source of cheap labour, and say they will have major problems replacing the young men. The minister of labour, Zdenek Skromach, has said their places could be filled by the unemployed or fresh school-leavers. But they would still cost institutions a lot more than young men doing their civic duty.

There are volunteers who help out at hospitals and such institutions, but most of them do not do work such as cleaning. Many of the jobs in question are unattractive to say the least, and it could be difficult to find anybody at all willing to do them, some experts believe.

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