EU employment: the new frontier

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.

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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 7,000 Czechs 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. Many 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).

Vladimír Pikora
Photo: Tomáš Kubeš

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

Jan Kinšt
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.

Fiona Gaze

Kvido Stříšovský (29): Better prospects for science

Kvido Stříšovský
Photo: Vojtěch Vlk

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.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 an advantage!”

Monika Mudranincová


Jiří Poněšický (39) : Language skills make the difference

Jiří Poněšický
Photo: Vojtěch Vlk

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. JIŘÍ 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 explains.
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.

Monika Mudranincová

Alan Záruba (40) . European through and through

Alan Záruba
Photo: Vojtěch Vlk

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. 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.

Monika Mudranincová

Irena Pelikánová (58): On a legal mission

Irena Pelikánová
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 muses.






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