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Cyril Koky: Address Romani unemployment through responsible public procurement

Prague, 14.7.2014 6:48, (ROMEA)
Cyril Koky (PHOTO: ROMEA TV)
Cyril Koky (PHOTO: ROMEA TV)

The high level of unemployment among the Romani population causes a stigmatizing factor that negative influences the majority society's position toward the Romani minority. The majority society sees the cause of unemployment more in Romani people themselves and in their "unwillingness" to work and will not admit the existence of systemic barriers in access to employment or of discrimination on the labor market. 

In order to address this most burning question of socially excluded Romani localities, there is primarily a need to increase employment. Socially beneficial public procurement can be one tool for this. 

Public procurement - a tool in the fight against unemployment

During every public procurement process there is more than one competing contract for a good or service to be won. These procurement processes can be designed so as to be socially beneficial.

Naturally, all of this must conform to all of the applicable legal norms, both of the Czech Republic and the EU. Such an approach is already rather widespread, for example, in Austria or Great Britain, but for the time being there has been very little Czech experience with it.

The current European Commission directive according to which the laws on public procurement in all the Member States are to be updated by 2016 places great emphasis on taking the environmental and social aspects of public procurement into consideration. It is evident that this trend will increase.

Good experiences from Kolín, Most and Semily

The town of Most established a special condition for the fulfillment of public procurement contracts in 2011 when it was choosing vendors for construction work. Per Section 44 paragraph 10 of Act No. 137/2005 Coll., on public procurement, the contracting authority required at least 10 % of the overall number of a vendor's employees involved in fulfilling its contract to come from the ranks of the long-term unemployed, i.e., to be job applicants who had been registered at labor offices for at least five months immediately prior to the commencement of the performance of the contract.

A vendor met the criteria if such persons could demonstrably end their registration with the Labor Office as a result of having concluded an employment relationship with the vendor. An obligatory component of the offer was the vendor's declaration that at least 10 % of the persons to participate in fulfilling the contract would be recruited for employment or sub-contracted from among the long-term unemployed; the total value of the contracts concerned was more than CZK 80 million.

We also have several examples available from the town of Semily as to how to include solving social problems as part of public contracts without having to adjust their primary criterion, that of price. The first such contract realized was the reconstruction of the building of the Jitřenka cinema into a café, library, screening room, and spaces for clubs. 

The town of Kolín also decided to establish conditions for its own investment activities so as to actively influence employment policy. There the most appropriate route seemed to be that of involving selected individuals in construction contracts featuring manual and unqualified labor.

Responsible public procurement is a step in the right direction

It is very important that individual towns and villages be maximally helpful in this area. One way to contribute to addressing high unemployment is precisely their application of the concept of responsible public procurement. 

Unfortunately, however, public procurement is very often a source of clientelism, corruption, and enrichment. Through public procurement, private firms receive billions of crowns in public money, and it is up to our society what to buy with it.

In London, for example, firms employ unemployed migrants or create jobs for people living with disabilities and for those living below the poverty line. Towns in the Czech Republic can also address social problems through public procurement in a similar way. 

For people who have long been unemployed, this is a big opportunity, but unfortunately, many municipalities in this country are not yet sufficiently prepared for this approach. All that is required is the courage and determination to get involved in local situations instead of just talking about how impossible everything is.

Cyril Koky, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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