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EU employment: the new frontier
Written by: Monika Mudranincová
A year after the entry of the Czech
Republic to the EU, the exodus of the domestic workforce predicted
by pundits has gone unfulfilled. Czechs working abroad now number
only in the several thousands, but those that tried their luck on
foreign markets are glad to have done so.
PERHAPS THE FACT that so few people are interested to work abroad
is that besides the UK, Ireland, and Sweden, the other countries
of the original fifteen have called for a so-called transitional
period that will limit job migration for a few years (seven at most).
However, they also set the conditions under which they will make
exceptions. For instance, in Germany Czechs can work if their employers
prove that no German can be found for the job. In the case of physicians,
there are many classified advertisements seeking qualified staff.
Doctor Rath, the president of the Czech Medical Association, says
that over a thousand Czech doctors were working abroad prior to EU
accession, joined by several hundreds of them a year later.
In Germany and the Netherlands Czech ship hands are being sought. "Our
people are often better qualified than the natives. They've been
in great demand since the nineties," says Jiří Král of the Děčín
employment office, estimating that 3,000 Czechs are currently working
in the Rhine area. While Austria is looking for construction workers,
Italy, England, and Ireland want qualified specialists and health
care, hotel, and restaurant workers. "We still receive offers
from foreign employers seeking waitpersons, bartenders, and nurses," say
Monika Štaudnerová, an executive of the Elite Agency, which mediates
Czech jobs abroad.
A year after accession, it is safe to say that hordes of Czechs
did not inundate the west. "Czechs are conservative. They won't
move for employment even within this country," claims Král.
Moreover, most of those who decide to give up the warmth of their
home leave only for a limited period of time and then return home.
But there are no concrete statistics about Czechs working abroad,
only certain countries are able to provide some feedback. Czech
ambassador in Sweden, Marie Chatardová, states that currently about
and Slovaks live there; Britain claims some 9,000 Czechs out of
130,000 newcomers mostly consisting of Poles, Slovaks and Lithuanians.
Will this situation change? Recent research by the public opinion
reaserch center (CVVM) discovered that about 12% of Czechs want
to work abroad. But intention and action are two different things.
applicants for work abroad are discouraged by the bureaucracy and
long admission processes that in countries such as Germany and
Austria can take several months. "This will not change easily. I believe
that now when it is evident that there is no rapid influx of Czechs,
Germany and Austria will open their labor markets," says Miloš
Tichý, head of the Czech branch of the internet portal of the European
Employment Service (EURES).
The lure of money
To seek employment abroad takes a lot of courage with no guarantee
of the result. Those who are willing to undertake the risk have
usually several reasons - money, experience, and professional
growth. Better pay is the most common motivation. According to
Volksbank analyst Vladimír Pikora, it will take several generations
for member state wage levels to converge. "Various models
indicate that we won't approach German wages until 2037. To speed
things up we'd have to markedly increase work productivity," he
notes. So it seems for years Czechs will look with envy at how
much their counterparts are earning in the west. The gap is vast
- while the average hourly wage here is CZK 102, in the Netherlands
it's 523, in Germany 582, in Austria 471, and in Ireland 492.
Besides better pay, Czechs long for new experiences and better
work and social conditions. "If you're capable, you can enjoy
unique professional growth abroad and take advantage of new contacts
to help you in the long term," says graphic designer Alan
Záruba. Dr. Rath contrasts the professional attitudes towards doctors
in developed countries with practices here. "Our doctors are
leaving because of the work culture. Here hospitals are managed
centrally, and employees don't generally enjoy much respect, which
hurts motivation badly," he explains. Similar complaints arise
from scientists, teachers, and state employees. "The conditions
for young scientists must improve in the Czech Republic, otherwise
the good ones will stay abroad," says Kvido Stříšovský, a
biochemist and molecular biologist who saw no prospects here, so
he found a job in Great Britain (see page 21).
While an international job market obviously has many benefits,
what do Czechs have to offer abroad? They're traditionally lauded
for their improvisational skills, thoroughness, and reliability,
while shortcomings often mentioned are languages and flexibility. "People
who want to succeed abroad should focus on high qualification and
language skills. Only this combination can open up new opportunities," concludes
Monika MacDonagh-Pajerová, who coordinates the Yes for Europe project.
Jan Kinšt (40): Seizing an opportunity
Photo: Jakub Peršín
After 15 fruitful years in the public-finance field,
Jan Kinšt (40) says it is an honor to have been appointed
the first Czech Member of the European Court of Auditors
in Luxembourg last May, following the country's accession
to the EU. As the EU's supreme audit institution, the ECA
acts as a "watchdog" of EU finances, performing
audits of EU expenditures.
KINŠT REPRESENTS the Czech Republic in the ECA's college,
which approves the audit reports and other output of the
ECA. He participates in the Court's meetings - intervening,
discussing, and finally co-approving the Court's decisions.
Preparation for such meetings is time-consuming. "I
have to spend hours studying the relevant documents and exchanging
opinions with my advisers," Kinšt says. At the moment,
he is in charge of an audit of environmental projects in
external aid to developing countries.
After a year settling in, Kinšt says that his new post gives
him "great professional satisfaction." The ECA
has done much to make its new appointees feel at home. "The
fact that all 10 new members started at the same time helped," reflects
Kinšt. "Perhaps the new members got used to their new
working conditions easier than some of our 'old' colleagues
did to the enlargement from 15 to 25 members", he says.
Along with his family - which has also enlarged since his
new appointment, due to his second marriage last June - Kinšt
has overcome initial "immigrant" matters like finding
housing and putting children in school. He appreciates Luxembourg
particularly because it's "such a cosmopolitan city
that foreigners don't really feel like strangers." Prague
is well-known in the city, largely due to the historical
figure King John of Luxembourg, who happened to be the father
of Charles IV. Kinšt says that of course, everyone knows
Czech beer, but adds that "I do still meet some locals
who call our country Czechoslovakia!"
Kinšt views the country's accession to the EU, as well as
his post at the ECA, as a great opportunity for growth that
needs to be seized and made the most of. "We can benefit
from EU membership only if we are good and competitive -
nobody will give us anything for free," he says.
Kvido Stříšovský (29): Better prospects
This biochemist and molecular biologist at the Academy
of Sciences was not afraid of the risk required to fulfil his dream.
His determination has paid off with a post in Cambridge, England.
Photo: Vojtěch Vlk
The reason? Stříšovský currently works as a so-called post-doc
position, building his reputation and skills, while seeking to
publish the results of his work in prestigious international journals.
He would like to use the experience he can gain abroad to further
his profession back home later on. "But conditions and prospects
for young scientists must be improved here, or the best of the
best will stay abroad," explains Stříšovský. During his own
excursions, this scientist has improved his qualifications and
knowledge of languages, established contacts, and discovered that
advanced European countries provide much more state funding to
science than the Czech Republic, which results in superior research
conditions. Stříšovský, now in a post-doc position in MRC Laboratory
of Molecular Biology, is financially better off. With a doctorate
and six years of practical experience, his basic gross wage at
home is CZK 16,000, while from his EU wage two people could live
easily. (ed. note: scientists in the EU in comparable positions
make from EUR 2,500 to 3,000). Stříšovský found the job easily,
but had to obtain his salary by applying for prestigious scholarships
that are called twice a year - so between the first contact with
the laboratory to the admission took a year and half. The young
scientist is very excited to be in Cambridge and plans to stay
about two years. What would he advise to colleagues considering
similar options? "Be ready to work hard and to take care of
yourself. Personal funds, a grant, or a scholarship are always
Jiří Poněšický (39) : Language
skills make the difference
He worked in Germany for three months, and then he
came home. He's learned from his mistakes, and now he's trying
to get another job in an EU country.
Photo: Vojtěch Vlk
PONĚŠICKÝ is an urologist who wanted to resolve his family's
financial situation by working in Germany. "We have
two children, and we'd like another, but if my wife stays
at home with them I won't be able to support my family on
what I make (about CZK 22,000 net, including overtime)." He
found a job through an advertisement, and his German employer
wanted him so badly that he didn't care about his lack of
German (he knows English). Although his colleagues were nice
to him, his communication with patients was worse than he
wished. Additionally, because of his language handicap he
wasn't promoted to the position of assistant, with its salary
of EUR 3,500, so he was making only EUR 1,000 net per month.
Nevertheless, he went through the whole admission procedure
and discovered that it can last for months. "You have
an interview with the German Medical Association, and then
you apply for a permit at the employment office. You're approved
if your employer can prove that he can't fill the job with
a German. And then you need a residency permit," he
Later on he found a job in Pirna, Germany, but before all
official procedures were finalized, a German applicant appeared
and was given precedence. "Right now I'm looking at
an opportunity in Dresden," says Poněšický. Because
of the family, he does not want to move as far as to England
or Ireland, although doors are open there. He openly admits
that the initial enthusiasm has left him due to the dragging
admission procedure that Germany requires, although there
is a shortage of doctors there, mainly in rural areas and
the former East Germany. "But Czech physicians needn't
worry about being under-qualified," he claims.
The doctor says that while medical practices are the same,
the attitudes of health care workers towards patients and
the hospital conditions are a little better abroad. Today
Poněšický is in Prague, where he's studying German intensively
and staying in touch with potential foreign employers.
Alan Záruba (40) . European through
This graphic designer and part-time teacher at the
Prague School of Industrial Arts and Merz Academy in Stuttgart didn't
wait for the Czech Republic's EU accession - his second professional
home has been the Netherlands for several years.
Photo: Vojtěch Vlk
In 1991 Záruba left to Great Britain. First he studied at a private
language school in Manchester where he gained an English language
certificate and then he received BA from graphic design and typography
in London. "For a person who wants to succeed abroad, professional
qualifications and languages are critical," he notes. Later
he took advantage of post-graduate studies at the prestigious London
School of Printing, where just the so-called overseas fee is CZK
450,000. But that was before our accession to the EU. According
to the ministry of education, since May 1, 2004 situations of Czechs
improved in this respect, as EU members pay lower fees that non-members
pay, no matter from which EU country the students comes from. In
2001 he settled in Amsterdam, where he was selected from 120 employees
for the fourth-best paid position with Total Design studio. But
the Dutch didn't react very well to him. "They feigned friendliness,
but later they admitted that they envied me my position and wanted
me to leave," he recalls, adding that he tried to assert himself
in an ordinary collegial way, and it worked. "In order to
succeed in a competition with locals, you can't neglect open communications."
Until the entry to EU he had a design studio in Prague and in the
Hague. However, doing business in two places required two sets
of books and travel. Last June he transferred the administrative
operations of both businesses to the Prague studio. "Everything
is much more simple and my costs dropped down after the entry to
the EU," says Záruba happily, adding that he still works for
west European clients. There's great demand for graphic designers
in the Netherlands, and the pay is incomparably higher than here. "But
the truth is, my investments in education and starting my business
were enormous. I'm just now beginning to get them back," he
remarks. On the other hand, he points out that nothing is for free. "It's
bad to simply wait for what we'll get from the union. We have to
take the initiative and be independent. That's the only way we'll
succeed," he concludes.
Irena Pelikánová (58): On a legal
Photo: Jakub Peršín
Following EU accession, Irena Pelikánová (58) became the
Czech Republic's first member judge to represent the country
in Luxembourg. Her appointment to the European Court of First
Instance continues after a landmark year of changes, both
for Pelikánová's career and for the Czech Republic as an
EU member state.
The Court of First Instance is an independent arm of the
Court of Justice, which deals with actions brought by individuals
against European Community institutions. "Most of the
cases we have to decide about are in the area of commercial
law, such as legal remedies regarding trade marks or protection
of economic competition, or law suits against decisions of
various European institutions," explains Pelikánová.
Upon assuming her new post last May, she knew what to expect,
as commercial law was her life-long domain. She taught commercial
law before 1989, and after 1990 went on to practice law for
a decade as an attorney and also served on various government
councils and committees (such as the Securities Commission).
One year on, she maintains the enthusiasm and vigor that
helped her get where she is. "I like my current job," she
says, "the work load is the same as at home, but my
work is not so scattered, I can be more focused. Here we
really work for the law."
Since her appointment she has had to build her own international
five-member cabinet that consists of three lawyers - one
French, one Czech and one German - one assistant and a secretary.
Adding a full social calendar and having to adjust to a new
home city with her husband, Pelikánová has been busy. On
the other hand, she enjoys the general quiet of the city
of Luxembourg with nature close by, and refuses to think
what will happen once her term will be over in two - or,
if reelected - five years. "I hope that after this mission
I will just retire and devote time solely to my garden," she