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June 1998, Volume 5, Number 6

Czech, Russia: Guest Workers

The Czech Republic is under pressure to tighten controls over entries from its eastern neighbors in anticipation of EU entry. The Czech Republic does not require visas from Ukrainians, and most of them make short-term tourist visits by purchasing travel vouchers, coming to the Czech Republic and looking for work. As illegal workers, many earn only 25 Kc to 30 Kc ($0.75 to $1) an hour, compared to 50- 55 Kc an hour for legal workers. Many find jobs through private agencies that assign them to construction companies; some companies use armed guards to keep the workers in line.

According to the Czech Labor Agency, only about 10 percent of the Ukrainians who visit the Czech Republic apply for work permits in Kiev and arrange to start work the day they arrive; most come to the Czech Republic, and then look for work. The Czech Republic has a bilateral agreement with the Ukraine that permits up to 60,000 Ukrainians to work in the Czech Republic. There were 21,417 Ukrainians registered as working, mostly in construction, in the Czech Republic as of the end of March, 1998, making them almost half of the 55,108 non-Slovak foreigners with work permits in the Czech Republic. Another 69,723 Slovaks, who don't need work permits, are also registered as working in the Czech Republic.

Legal Ukrainian workers reported earning $250 to $400 a month working 10-hour days, seven days a week, in construction. In some cases, the Ukrainians doing unskilled work have high levels of education, but cannot earn more than $100 a month in the Ukraine.

The Russian Federal Migration Service (FMS) reported that 119,000 citizens from the CIS and Baltic countries worked in Russia in 1997, as did a roughly equal number of people from the rest of the world. Half of the foreign workers are sent to Russia by foreign firms with operations in Russia. There were 50,000 fewer guest workers in 1997 than 1996, a result of the fact that Belarussian citizens are no longer considered foreign workers in Russia.

The leading countries of origin of foreign workers are Ukraine, China, ex-Yugoslavia and North Korea. There were about 32,000 Ukranians and Turks employed in Russian construction in 1997, and 10,000 Ukrainians and Chinese employed in Russian agriculture. Russian employers found with illegal foreign workers must pay for their repatriation.

Peter Smith, "Ukrainian workers do hard work at hard pay," Prague Post, May 20, 1998. Valeria Sychova, " Every Fifth Guest Worker in Russia Works in Moscow," Current Digest of The Post-Soviet Press, May 13, 1998.