Olga Gheorghiev, Markéta Švarcová, Dino Numerato Karin Hoření & Karel Čada
This year in June, a Ukrainian national made the news in the Czech Republic following his six days’ hunger strike in front of Bobcat, a large construction equipment manufacturer that hires, through a recruitment company, a significant number of Eastern European workers. The strike was Yaroslav’s final attempt to draw the company’s attention to the failure of the recruitment agency it had been collaborating with in paying salaries to many of the migrants working there.
The protest action, which struggled to attract the attention of the Czech mainstream media, was not only related to the situation in the construction equipment manufacturer. The initiative called upon for a more substantial change in the approach of employers and recruitment agencies towards migrants. Yaroslav’s association with the suggestive name of “Foreigners are not slaves” systematically registers tens of complaints from Ukrainian co-nationals that were never paid by the recruitment agencies mediating the employment relations between them and Czech employers.
The case of Yaroslav’s protest reflected broader and increasingly difficult circumstances. The situation of migrants was further complicated due to the global pandemic, as many of them had to return home and were left with the promise that their salary will somehow be transferred to them in the following month. Unfortunately, given that many of them lack the proper documentation, there is little to be done in order to ease their situation and ensure that they will be paid what they are due. Under these circumstances, Yaroslav’s best bet is to put pressure on employers themselves by attracting media attention, as acting against evasive recruitment agencies proves extremely difficult.
Abusive practices by recruitment companies are among the many barriers that migrants willing to integrate in Czech the labour market are experiencing. When asked about the challenges he is facing at the moment, Vasily (fictitious name), a migrant worker from Ukraine, pointed to a number of issues he is currently facing: he had recently lost his job and had to pick up a low-paid position through a recruitment agency in order to keep his working visa. At the same time, he is not able to afford a place to stay by himself, so he is sharing an apartment with several other workers assigned by the agency. Furthermore, he is confronted with hostile attitudes at work.
Barriers hindering labour market integration are not unique to Vasily’s experience. In-depth biographic interviews with migrants in the Czech Republic reveal experiences determined by financial insecurity and a lack of access to affordable housing. Furthermore, besides legal, financial, and linguistic barriers, challenges to labour market integration for migrants and refugees arise also from the impact of their exposure to traumatic events and stress, such as discrimination, separation from their families, or reclusion.
On a general level, one can identify shared barriers among different personal stories; these may include economic hardship, social insecurity, or safety and life-threatening circumstances. A closer look, however, reveals unique ways in which migrants and refugees navigate through situations of insecurity, experience constraints differently, and make use of structural opportunities. Despite various structural barriers, migrants and refugees are not passive victims. In many of the experiences and situations shared during interviews, they appear as active decision-makers, albeit often with limited choices. They mobilise social and material resources, seek answers and assistance through different channels, identify the structural opportunities their environment is offering, and learn to rely on each other, as well as on natives and local resources. Yaroslav’s grassroots efforts through his association represent an expression of these exact capacities to mobilise and exert resistance against structural barriers. At the same time, his experience reveals the multiple levels at which barriers are encountered, as well as the complexity that a successful approach to integration and fair economic treatment of migrants should entail.
For the full report please see here: https://www.sirius-project.eu/publications/wp-reports-results