The end of compulsory work in the Czech Republic

By • on February 6, 2013

Until the end of November 2012, employment offices in the Czech Republic were able to send the unemployed to take part in unpaid community service work. But this has finally come to an end in December 2012.

Previously, each person who had been unemployed for longer than two months had to take part in mandatory community service work programs. If they refused, they would be removed from the database of the unemployment office, the welfare money would be taken away and the health insurance would no longer be covered. However, the Constitutional Court decided to cancel the mandatory community service. According to the chief of the Constitutional Court Pavel Rychetský, the mandatory community service amounted to forced work and thus constituted a violation of the constitution.

Most people taking part in this community service were Roma, and they would be more than happy to continue doing that as long as they would also get an adequate wage for their work. According to some Czech Roma, the mandatory service humiliated their dignity. Not only was society refusing to give them work, but it also reinforced discrimination by forcing them to work for free while looking down on them, as if they were convicts. So, instead of helping, the State was indeed exploiting their already complicated social status. But this is finally over and I hope that if it is going to happen again in the future, the unemployed will work for the community only for a financial reward.

In neighbouring Slovakia, community service is defined as an “activation work” and the unemployed get the activation wage supplement for their work. The Roma would literally fight to get the activation work as extra money is always welcomed into their family budgets. And the villages and towns need those workers. Of course, they do not get paid as much as employees of a company would, but they are still able to improve their living standards by a little. However, although their work can sometimes be similar to that in a professional company, they are paid very poorly for it. This is a misuse of the unemployed, but it remains less bad than the situation until now in the Czech Republic.

Here is an example from Ondašovské Matiašovce in east Slovakia. Under the direction of Roma and non-Roma experienced builders, unemployed Roma built a funeral home, reconstructed the roof and other parts of the church, reconstructed the cultural house and built concrete bus stop booths. They are also cleaning and looking after the cemetery, the river and the communal space. In short, they do all the necessary work for the village, which would not manage without them and would certainly not look so well kept.

The State simply needs the unemployed. It is a matter of incredible savings for the budget of the community. So, those who think of Roma as loafers should really look around and count how much money those so-called loafers lose by working almost for free, and think that a company would charge incomparably much more money for such work.

Some towns and villages are very unhappy about the new situation. They cannot imagine how they are going to function without the unpaid work done by the unemployed. Where are they going to find money to pay the labour now? They must hope that the employment offices will start paying at least some symbolic wage to people to persuade them to return.

Doesn’t this resemble the time in modern history when slavery was being abolished? Back then as well, the rich could not even imagine existance without their slaves, or having to start paying such people.

But luckily, just like in the past days, there are smart clerks and mayors among us who say “yes, the unemployed are in a disadvantaged situation and certainly deserve to get paid when working for our society, although not as much as we would pay a company. They are human beings and they have their dignity. Let’s not bring them down through mandatory work just because we have no work for them. It is not their fault. Society owes this to them, and not the other way around.”