The Czech Republic has the lowest jobless rate in the European Union with vacancies now outstripping the registered unemployed. But moves to attract workers from Ukraine are being hampered by red tape. That sparked a lightning visit last week by the Czech labour minister and a raft of reforms are now promised.
Minister of Labour and Social Affairs Jaroslava Němcová spent two-and-half days in Ukraine last week trying to work out why Czech employers complain they simply can’t recruit Ukrainians quickly enough to fill local gaps in the labour force.
In some cases the wait between starting the process to recruit for a long term visa of one year or more and finally fulling all the paperwork and bureaucratic hurdles can take nine months or even up to a year.
The Czech unemployment rate was 3.2 percent in April and there were around 25,000 more vacancies at labour offices than people seeking jobs. Many Czech companies have been warning for months now that they are losing orders because they simply don’t have the workers to fulfil them.
The minister was accompanied on the Ukraine trip by the vice president of the Czech Chamber of Commerce, Irena Bartoňová Pálková. The chamber plays a key role in the system for recruiting Ukrainians and has been one of the loudest critics of the flaws in the current system. Bartoňová Pálková explained why Ukrainians are needed and the recruitment process needs to be overhauled:
ʺCzech employees simply can’t be found on the labour market and that’s why we really need to recruit workers from abroad. We have primarily turned towards Ukraine because the country is culturally and traditionally close to us. It is a country which has something to offer and the workers there really want to work. That’s why we have turned there first.ʺ
There are officially estimated to be around 70,000 Ukrainians working in the Czech Republic though the real number could be much higher. This year the government boosted the annual quota of Ukrainian workers coming to the Czech Republic to 19,600. There are much smaller quotas for Filipinos and workers from Mongolia as part of pilot programmes. But the Ukrainian recruitment and visa process are not functioning well.
Minister Němcová outlined on May 21 some of the measures that will now be proposed to speed up and simplify the process. These include creating a fast track procedure for incoming foreign workers recruited as nurses or for other health and social care jobs where some of the worst local labour shortages are:
ʺThere is a massive and acute shortage especially in direct care and those offering care in facilities for those who need it. The work is very physically and mentally demanding. I believe this is where a breakthrough can be made very quickly.ʺ
Simplifying the visa and permit steps, grouping demands so that they can be processed quicker, and increased outsourcing of some of the processes so that Czech consulates and embassies have a reduced workload. These are some of the suggestions that will be made in the next weeks to streamline the system. The ministry and chamber of commerce are counting on the average time taken to process applications for Ukrainian workers being halved to around 90 days in total.