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Summary of the conference Foreign workers in the labour market

The international conference held on September, 16th 2014, at the Goethe Institute in Prague and organized by the Association for Integration and Migration, the Organization for Aid to Refugees, and Multicultural Centre Prague, was the culmination of a two-year project with the same name: Foreign workers in the labour market. The conference focused on the contemporary challenges as well as proven approaches to the employment of foreign workers in the Czech Republic, Germany, and Great Britain. An appealing feature of this conference was the fact that while looking at some, more or less, controversial topics, it gave space to different perspectives. In subsequent discussions consensus was reached (which is a bit unusual in the Czech environment), and the current real or impending problems were named. The issues around optimal settings of migration policies in relation to the labour market were discussed as well, which is remarkable, as the solutions are not easily found in this area.

The conference was opened by Pavla Hradečná from the Association for Integration and Migration, who briefly introduced the project and its outcomes, along with a new expert publication which is dedicated to a comparative analysis of foreign employment in selected EU countries.

Panel 1: Human trafficking for the purpose of labour exploitation and forced criminality

The first panel, moderated by Marie Jelínková from the Association for Integration and Migration, dealt with the issue of Human trafficking for the purpose of labour exploitation and forced criminality. An introductory contribution by Klára Skřivánková from Anty-Slavery International (see ppt in English) focused on key issues in identifying so-called forced crime, and introduced the results of the two-year European project, RACE in Europe, which dealt with this topic. The contribution stressed in particular the challenges encountered in identifying both the crimes and their victims. An extremely valuable insight into the practice was offered by Jaroslav Zákopčan, a criminologist in the Police Unit for Combating Organized Crime. He presented the Unit's work in the area of human trafficking for labour exploitation as well as specific cases the Unit has dealt with. The last contribution was made by Lucie Otáhalová, a lawyer from the NGO La Strada, who talked about ways of searching for and contacting victims, as well as issues associated with the identification of victims. She also pointed to specific imperfections in the law on the victims of crime, which the NGO face while representing  the victims of human trafficking. A ten-minute documentary, The Trip (Unchosen)[1], was then shown and followed by a short debate. The film presented the story of a Vietnamese boy named Hung, who, instead of work he was promised, ended up working against his will in a marijuana growing house, where he was forcibly kept, and where he was eventually arrested. He was sentenced to imprisonment and only after 18 months in prison was identified as a victim of forced criminality. The subsequent debate was focused on, among other things, the issue of searching for victims of trafficking for labour exploitation and forced criminality, which showed how very little we know about the "best" practices in this field. The issue of crimes committed by foreign minors in the context of forced criminality, which is quite widespread in the UK while it is scarce in the Czech Republic, was also discussed considerably.

Panel 2: Circumventing labour law while employing foreigners 

The second panel, moderated by Martin Rozumek from the Organization for Aid to Refugees, was on the topic of Circumventing labour law while employing foreigners – comparative analysis with Germany and its Fleischmafia case. This was preceded by a short video on the discussed case of the so called Meat mafia (Fleischmafia) (available in German here). After the film, Grehl-Norbert Schmitt from Caritasverband für die Diezöse Osnabrück, Germany, presented an analysis of the case of the so called Fleischmafia based on the prices of meat and other related data. The phenomenon of Fleischmafia was caused by, among other things, the emergence of a high overproduction of meat in Germany. Overproduction leads to a huge competitive struggle in order to reduce the price of meat. The results if which are, among other things, almost slave-like labour and residence conditions of workers from Central and Eastern Europe. The lawyer and political scientist, Pavel Čižinský, (see ppt in Czech) from Multicultural Centre Prague, in his contribution that followed, identified several areas where ​​legislation in the Czech Republic should be changed. These changes would lead to the alleviation of the existing problems in the field of foreign employment, as well as the prevention of problems, related to those previously mentioned in the presentation by Mr. Grehl-Schmitt. The main aim of Mr. Čižinský’s finely detailed presentation, was, therefore, a suggestion towards a new regulation for contracting labour in the Czech Republic. Miloš Konečný, from the Trade Union of Workers in Textile, Clothing and Leather Industry of Bohemia and Moravia, mentioned that the Union warned against many of the similar problems as far back as the early 1990s. He stressed the need for a truly equal status of foreign workers in the Czech labour market, as their discrimination, on the one hand, leads to a lower wage which is unfair on the market and, on the other hand, leads to violations of labour standards. He then mentioned the cross-border trade union cooperation as a hopeful and positive development, which has been initiated in a promising way with neighboring Austria.

During lunch, an accompanying film, Modern Slavery (available in Czech here), was shown. The film dealt with the story of Bulgarian workers who were victims of human trafficking. They were living and working in miserable conditions and were forced to collect asparagus in fields near Mělník. The case led to a legally effective judgment in the Czech Republic in the area of ​​trafficking for labour exploitation, only the second in its kind in history.

PANEL 3: Implementation impacts of the EU directives on foreign employment

The final panel, moderated by Magda Faltová from the Association for Integration and Migration, was dedicated to the Implementation impacts of the EU directives on foreign employment - Single Permit Directive, Employers Sanctions Directive. An initial short film presented the discussed Sanctions Directive (available with English subtitles here)[2]. Due to time limitations a similar video dealing with the second discussed Directive (on a single work permit) was skipped (it is available here with English subtitles). Immediately at the beginning of the panel Barbara Weiser (see ppt in English), a lawyer from Caritasverband für die Diezöse Osnabrück, Germany, presented on the implementation and impact of the so-called Sanctions Directive in Germany. Due to limited time, the second topic - the implementation and impact of a single work permit in Germany -  was touched upon only briefly. Subsequently, Eva Čech Valentová, from the Association for Integration and Migration, (see ppt in Czech) presented how the so called Sanctions Directive was transposed into the Czech law, both in terms of legislation and in terms of its rather negligible efficiency in practice. The detailed, and extremely interesting presentation, also showed ways in which the effectiveness of the Directive could be significantly increased. The following panelist, Dalimila Solnická, from the State Labour Inspectorate, who had earlier provided much of the data regarding the Inspectorate’s work for the previous presentation, was given space to inform the audience more about the challenges that the institution faces while inspecting foreign employment. Few contributions at the conference attracted so much attention from the audience; an informative and open to the discussion approach of the speaker is to be applauded. Due to the little time remaining, the last contribution, by Marek Lisý from the Department for Asylum and Migration Policy of the Ministry of the Interior, was a bit short, however, it was noted that it was too early to evaluate the impact of the implementation of the Single Permit Directive if one considered that it had only been three months since the Czech Republic transposed it into the legislation. On the other hand, the speaker pointed out that compliance with the administrative deadlines that the Directive stipulates, will not be easy to implement for the Department, in view of the current problems it is facing. More information will, however, be available in the next few months.

As was mentioned in the introduction, it is not always possible to discuss some of the difficult issues that the conference dealt with in a constructive and cultivated way, as different actors look at the topics from different perspectives. Fortunately this conference, perhaps to the delight of all involved, showed that such a dialogue, which was additionally combined with a comparative view of different countries, is not only extremely interesting, but also beneficial in how mutual learning from each other is possible, and in realizing what we, or any of the other mentioned countries, are currently facing and can do to make the situation better in the future. The sad fact remains that the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs did not send a representative to the conference, despite the repeated invitations, and the fact that hardly any topic in labour migration and foreign employment could concern the Ministry less. The positive thing is that many other state authorities are aware that this is an extremely serious topic for discussions, and they are open to new information.

Video records (only in Czech version) from the conference are available here



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The text was written under the project called "Foreign workers in the labour market," which was carried out by the Association for Integration and Migration, in cooperation with the Organization for Aid to Refugees and the Multicultural Center Prague. International project partners are Caritasverband für die Diezöse Osnabrück from Germany and the Anti-Slavery International from Great Britain.

[1] Unfortunately, the film is not available for public viewing.

[2] It is possible to select the language of the subtitles in the lower left corner of the video.

Marie Jelínková
Marie Jelinkova, Ph.D. graduated in sociology from the Faculty of Social Sciences at the Charles University in Prague. In her MA thesis she compared Czech and Australian integration policies. She currently pursues a PhD in public and social policy focussing on the quality of life among migrants to the Czech Republic. Ms. Jelínková presently teaches on social exclusion and inclusion.


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