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Czech Labor Minister: Social problems solvable if towns would just access public funding

15.4.2015 19:18
The Janov housing estate in Litvínov, where Romani residents have been subjected to harassment and intimidation by the local authority, local media, local police and social workers, property owners and ultra-right political groups for almost a decade. (PHOTO:  Google Maps)
The Janov housing estate in Litvínov, where Romani residents have been subjected to harassment and intimidation by the local authority, local media, local police and social workers, property owners and ultra-right political groups for almost a decade. (PHOTO: Google Maps)

The Czech Labor Office is able to help address social problems at the Janov housing estate in Litvínov. Czech Labor and Social Affairs Minister Michaela Marksová (Czech Social Democratic Party - ČSSD) has recommended that the local government use money from the Labor Office to hire crime prevention assistants or maintenance workers.

After meeting with representatives of the Krušnohor apartment cooperative and town leadership, the minister told journalists that the reintroduction of community service jobs should also aid municipalities and towns such as Litvínov. The Krušnohor cooperative either manages or owns almost 1 300 apartment units at Janov and recently organized a petition that claimed its aim was to draw attention to the allegedly complicated coexistence between local residents and socially vulnerable people, mainly Roma.  

Marksová:  Community service should motivate employment

"I personally visited the Janov housing estate last year as well, so I know the situation there in detail," Marksová said. "Today we addressed the options the ministry has for improving the situation in this excluded locality and for encouraging a positive shift in the coexistence between local residents in the long run. The town should be taking much more advantage of the existing policy tools for employment, as well as taking advantage of EU projects supporting children of preschool and school age."

The minister said the officials also discussed necessary changes to social welfare legislation, to the system of housing benefits, and to the regulation of permanent versus temporary residency that would make employment comparatively more remunerative than going on public assistance. She said there is also a need to alter the conditions under which apartment cooperatives and homeowners associations operate.

Litvínov currently has four crime prevention assistants. The Labor Office can subsidize the hiring of more for up to one year.

State money could also be used by Krušnohor to hire maintenance workers; the cooperative says it has had to mothball two buildings because they are in poor repair. František Ryba, chair of the cooperative, said millions of crowns in damage have been done to the properties.  

The ministry said the reintroduction of community service jobs should help motivate people to seek work instead of public assistance. The Czech Constitutional Court found the previous incarnation of the community service program unconstitutional and it was halted more than two years ago.  

"Now there is a Senate bill to change the law on aid to those in material distress, and it is in its second reading in the lower house. It is realistic to expect it to take effect in September," Marksová said.

According to that legislation, if welfare recipients refuse to perform community service jobs that are available to them, their monthly welfare payments will be reduced per adult recipient from CZK 3 410 (EUR 124) to the subsistence minimum of CZK 2 200 (EUR 80). The Litvínov town council has welcomed the minister's proposals.  

Local officials said their experiences with the previous community service program were good. "Now we want to first hire another crime prevention assistant and develop a strategic plan that will designate those areas where it is necessary to initially provide financial aid," Mayor Kamila Bláhová (ANO) told the press; the Czech Government Agency for Social Inclusion will help the town hall find appropriate projects to implement.

Roma are offered apartmetns only at Janov

The minister said that the policies of recent years have destroyed Janov and other socially excluded localities like it. "Municipalities got rid of their tenants who had stopped paying rent in municipally-owned properties and the town councils moved all such people into a single location. Now it is necessary to separate those with whom it is possible to work further from the rest," she said.  

Marksová believes it will take five to 10 years for the situation to improve. News server has reported that the moving of Romani tenants into the Janov housing estate is still underway.

At the start of April the Czech Trade Inspectorate (ČOI) announced it is initiating administrative proceedings against the CPI BYTY firm, which it investigated on suspicion of discriminating against Romani clients. On the basis of dozens of complaints of a discriminatory approach toward Roma by the Litvínov branch of the firm, the ROMEA organization filed a motion with the Public Defender of Rights (the ombud) at the end of September 2014 and her office then drew the case to the attention of the ČOI.

In ROMEA's motion to the ombud and then to the ČOI, the group presented facts demonstrating that a system of direct discrimination of Romani people by the company was in place for rejecting, without any justification, their requests to lease apartments in Litvínov that had been advertised to the public by the company as available. The exception, of course, was the Janov housing estate, which was the sole location where CPI BYTY would offer to lease to prospective Romani tenants.

High unemployment at Janov

According to data from the Labor Office, the excluded locality of Janov reported a total of 492 welfare recipients receiving a total of CZK 2.3 million (EUR 84 000) during February of this year, as well as 283 housing benefit recipients receiving almost CZK 750 000 (EUR 27 000). As of 31 March, there were 664 job-seekers registered with the Labor Office, which is approximately 6.8 % of all job-seekers registered within Most district and 28.8 % of those registered in the town of Litvínov.

As of the end of March, the Czech Labor Ministry, through its active employment policy, succeeded in assisting 30 job-seekers there, 24 through public works jobs and six through what are termed "socially useful jobs". A total of 32 job-seekers from the locality were employed through projects currently financed by the European Social Fund.  

There are also two grant projects being implemented in the locality, primarily focused on job-seekers under age 25. The situation at Janov has long been socially tense.

In the year 2008, neo-Nazis exploited local dissatisfaction by repeatedly convening anti-Romani marches in the town. They clashed with police during those events.

ČTK, ryz, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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