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Romani entrepreneurs push for unemployed Roma, not foreigners, to be hired for Czech bark beetle eradication

16.6.2018 8:46
Vladimír Leško, president of the Association of Romani Entrepreneurs and Guilds (PHOTO: archive)
Vladimír Leško, president of the Association of Romani Entrepreneurs and Guilds (PHOTO: archive)

The Association of Romani Entrepreneurs and Guilds (Asociace romských podnikatelů a spolků) has offered to provide 1 000 laborers who have long been registered with the Czech Labor Office for work in forests to combat bark beetle, sending an open letter making the offer to Czech Environment Minister Richard Brabec (ANO) and Czech Agriculture Minister Jiří Milek (for ANO). Czech firms are complaining that they do not have enough laborers for forestry work and that they are understaffed by thousands.

The state has said it intends to bring in laborers mainly from Ukraine to do the work. Both ministers said they want to negotiate with representatives of the Association and to put them in touch with foresters.

The Association said the laborers they know of, who are now living on welfare because of a lack of job opportunities, would be vetted by the Association's firms. According to data from the Czech Labor Office, unemployment fell from 3.2 % in April to 3 % in May.

There were roughly 230 000 job-seekers at the end of May, the lowest number since July 1997. "We do not like these statements of Minister Richard Brabec and Minister Jiří Milek, and also by Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, that it is necessary to quickly bring thousands of unqualified laborers from abroad into the country when there are hundreds if not thousands of long-term unemployed Romani people whom nobody has directly offered this work," Association president Vladimír Leško said.

  "Naturally I must say we will be unequivocally glad for every free set of arms and legs willing to do this work," Environment Minister Brabec said. According to him, Czech Forests (Lesy ČR) and their suppliers have been discussing the lack of staff for more than a year.

"If these firms are not actually hiring people capable of work in this situation, then I will be surprised,," the minister said. In his view the question is what the Labor Offices are communicating to the firms.

"I am genuinely unable to imagine that discrimination would be involved, whether officially or unofficially," Brabec said. The press department of the Agriculture Ministry said Minister Milek has previously negotiated with the chair of the Statewide Association of Socially Responsible Romani Guilds and Entrepreneurs in the Czech Republic (Celostátní asociace sociálně zodpovědných romských spolků a podnikatelů v ČR), Marcel Ščuka, about opportunities for unemployed Romani people to find forestry jobs.

Milek said he has also asked Czech Forests (Lesy ČR) to inform him exactly about who is needed for the work. The Agriculture Minister also said he would put Leško in touch with employees of the state-run forestry management firm so they can agree on a concrete procedure.

Leško said he believes Romani people should have the same chance at becoming employed as persons from the majority population. "The Association also called on the ministers, in our letter, to give the firms involved in our Association the opportunity to participate in the public tenders and small-scale tenders - in most cases they are not at all aware of these tenders - and to thereby give a chance to these long-term unemployed persons and those registered with the Labor Offices to become full-fledged participants on the labor market," Leško said.

The ministers resolved at the end of May that the state would not be announcing a state of emergency over the bark beetles. The ČD Cargo company should, by the end of this year, increase its capacity for lumber removal from the forests by 500 train wagons.

The state, in coordination with the Regional Authorities, will also be looking for places to store the lumber. Brabec stated earlier that the current epidemic of bark beetle is the most widespread since the days of Empress Maria Theresa (1717-1780).

ČTK, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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