Czech Protesters March against Exploitation of Migrant Workers in State Forestry
Over hundreds of people gathered at the Czech Ministry of Agriculture in demand for justice for hundreds of exploited migrant forest workers on Sunday 27 March. The March, which was co-organized by the Initiative for Migrant Workers Rights and Initiative against Racism, moved across Prague and reached the Ministry of the Interior. The demonstrators demanded full compensation for the migrant workers’ labor as well as a full and timely investigation into what the attorneys representing the workers say is also a case of human trafficking.
Two firms in particular; Affumicata and Wood Servis Praha, which were part of the chain of subcontractors for the Czech Less & Forest, are at the center of what is increasingly evident as a case of wide workers’ exploitation on a transnational level. The work has been carried out upon completion of a public tender won by Less & Forest of the state owned Lesy České republiky, Krkonoše and Šumava National Parks and other public entities. Over the course of the 2009 and 2010 working seasons the two firms recruited workers from Vietnam, Romania and Slovakia to clean and plant trees in Czech forests, promising salaries that started at 10 000 CZK (around 400 Euros) and arranged housing. However, hundreds of the migrant workers received only a small fraction of their salaries or nothing at all. More importantly, many of the workers reported outrageous working and living conditions: little to no food, long working hours, cramped living spaces, and intimidation and threats from the management.
Mr. Tuan, one of the Vietnamese workers who travelled to attend the March told the crowd about the exploitative working conditions he witnessed and that he has yet to be paid for two months of free labor. Similarly, a Slovakian worker who was not able to attend the March echoed the same kind of experience in a message sent to the organizers in which he also added he has been still owed 22 400 Czech crowns (900 Euros). Addressing the gathered crowd, the Trade Union of Workers in the Woodworking Industry, Forestry and Water Management condemned the migrant workers’ exploitation and urged for the state company Lesy České Republiky to assume its share of responsibility for these incidents. Amidst fears of repeated abuse in the coming season, the protesters urged both ministries and the police to speed up their investigations.
The March has marked the end of a full week of events including a public debate on migrant workers’ exploitation in the Czech Republic as well as an exhibition in the National Technical Library in Prague. The aim of these events according to Mr. Čaněk, member of the Initiative for Migrant Workers Rights, is not only to raise an awareness about potential abuse of migrant workers and to mobilize a support for the migrant workers, but also to stand in solidarity – as people with more privilege – with those who are less privileged, and are in their pursuit of justice.
Prague, 29 March 2011