How do we manage to integrate Ukrainian refugees into the labour market? It will be a challenge...

How do we manage to integrate Ukrainian refugees into the labour market? It will be a challenge...

More than a month after the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, about 300,000 people fled to the Czech Republic, of which over 260,000 people received special visas. Thanks to them, we already know that almost half of them are children and that of the remaining adults, 80% are women.

During the crisis, the state authorities of the Czech Republic showed the necessary flexibility, speed and humanity and opened the entry of Ukrainian citizens de facto on the basis of notifications or significantly simplified visa requirements for existing residents. No one dares to say how long the war can continue and whether the refugees decide to return to their homeland or settle in the Czech Republic. If a significant proportion of Ukrainian citizens decide to stay, what might this mean for an overheated labour market?

In the Czech Republic, despite the negative effects of the pandemic, there is a shortage of workers, unemployment is still the lowest in the EU (2.4% in the Czech Republic compared to the average of 6.2% in the EU), which was very negatively felt by domestic enterprises and therefore also by the domestic economy. According to the Labor Office , more than 350,000 jobs were vacant at the end of January, about a month before Russia's invasion of Ukraine. 70% of these jobs were suitable for foreigners, the vast majority in manufacturing, technical and blue-collar fields, but also in social services and healthcare.

Number of foreigners with Ukrainian citizenship living in the Czech Republic:

Illustrative image

Source: CZSO, Ministry of the Interior

The idea is that war migrants from Ukraine, many of whom are interested in working in the Czech Republic, can fill a significant part of the job offers. The fact that this is the interest of all interested parties was also confirmed by the rapid approval of the so-called Lex Ukraine, which has cancelled the process of obtaining a work permit that has been very demanding and previously impassable for many Ukrainians and views refugees from Ukraine as residents with permanent residence in the Czech Republic.

Among experts, the prevailing opinion is that the arrival of Ukrainian residents is an opportunity for employers. For example, according to Gerhard Knop of leadership Synergy Community, it is also evident that companies are going against their employment, not only to fill vacancies, but clearly also because of belonging. For many employers, helping was a matter of course even in days when they had to deal with operations related to conflict (disruption of supply chains, uncertainty in sales) and selflessly rushed to help families.

"Helping the families of our core employees, of whom we have over 400 in the Czech Republic, was a moral obligation for us. We dispatched several buses for the family members of our employees to get them out of immediate danger. Subsequently, we helped them arrange accommodation. We just wanted to do the right thing," says HOPI Holding founder František Piškanin.

Will Ukrainian refugees fill a hole in the labor market?

Yet, at this point, employing Ukrainian refugees poses a number of challenges. Although according to the already mentioned data of the Labor Office, the vast majority of job offers were suitable for foreigners, they are often positions that are physically demanding. Among adult arrivals, 80% are women, as men have voluntarily and from a certain point in time been obliged to stay in Ukraine to defend it.

According to CTK, which published the results of a March survey by Profesia, 59% of businesses are willing to employ refugees from Ukraine on a part-time or permanent basis, even knowing that they are mostly women with children. A fifth of companies are still making decisions, and the same share does not count on employing refugees. According to Jana Stehlíková, an expert in human resources and founder of the Flecto application, in the last two weeks job offers from domestic companies have been decreasing.

Leaving aside the physically demanding professions, another significant part of the jobs offered are in the field of services. Here, however, the fundamental problem is the lack of knowledge of the Czech language. English can often be an alternative, but in services at least a basic knowledge of the Czech language is usually a necessity. Fortunately, this is not an unsolvable problem due to the linguistic affinity with Ukrainian. A number of employers are also ready to offer Czech language courses to suitable job seekers from Ukraine.

One of the fields that has long been plagued by a shortage of workers is healthcare. Women are welcome in it, but in the health sector, Ukrainians face another problem. And that, in addition to the language barrier, is the proof of education or qualifications. Although many of the Ukrainians who have fled to us are qualified and educated, the current rules do not allow them to enter so-called regulated professions that require a certain type of qualification. Until this problem is resolved, the Health Ministry has promised to allow Ukrainians to work in the health sector in other positions that do not require qualifications.

The key to filling vacancies with Ukrainians? Adaptability and a genuine desire to help them

The above information shows that labour market demand does not directly meet the supply of Ukrainian refugees. In the vast majority of cases, people from Ukraine are immediately employable only in specific professions. Even in this case, however, it may not be a one hundred percent agreement. As already mentioned, about half of the migrants from Ukraine are children cared for by their mothers, who make up 80% of adult refugees. Employers will therefore have to accommodate them in their maternity responsibilities, and ukrainians are expected to be more likely to demand reduced working hours and flexible working hours. Other support from the employer is also essential, such as faster access to pay than after a month, because the costs associated with settling in the Czech Republic may seem astronomical (the cost of living in Prague is 40% higher than in Kiev, and on top of that, people bring savings from 3 times lower wages).

In this respect, it is really important to meet them, because the 5,000 crowns for a new start is far from enough. Some even came to us completely without savings. Such people can be very prone to fall for the pitfalls of working mobsters, usurers, or even end up in forced prostitution. Unfortunately, examples of scumbags who exploit the situation of refugees are appearing more and more frequently, and if we do not do our best to provide appropriate assistance, they may continue to increase.

Perhaps someone thought that Ukrainian refugees would save the country's overheated labor market, but so far it is unlikely. Or rather, it is not out of the question, it is only necessary to remember that in order for the supply of jobs to meet the demand, it will require a great deal of adaptability and patience from both sides, because it cannot be expected that the results will come immediately. For example, employers are now required to be flexible in working hours and remuneration, and in the long term to help with learning Czech and retraining. From the incoming Ukrainians, the willingness to do work for some time that does not correspond to their education or experience, but the best that can be done until they can cope with the language barrier is needed.

According to Jana Stehlíková, Ukrainian refugees are willing to accept less qualified work at this moment, as most of them consider their stay in the Czech Republic to be temporary. Nevertheless, it is important to offer them safety and security in the form of legal employment opportunities with the maximum degree of flexibility so that they do not fall into the shadow economy. "This will be the biggest challenge for Czech employers, who do not yet provide sufficient flexibility even to Czech employees, especially in the area of unskilled jobs, for example, they are not used to paying wages continuously in the form of advances," adds Stehlíková.

In the middle of time, assuming that Ukraine would still not be safe and refugees would still stay with us, Czech might no longer be a problem. It is also to be hoped that in some time the possibility of recognizing some Ukrainian diplomas and qualifications or completing them in our country will open up. According to Stehlíková, the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs is already working on the recognition of qualifications and the revision of the list of regulated professions. The Chamber of Commerce and the unions could also quickly put together information about the job offer from companies and also about the structure of positions that could be offered to refugees at all. But with a certain degree of optimism, everything is a matter of months. As a result, the domestic labor market, as well as Ukrainians who would stay with us for a long time, could finally be relieved.

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