Unpaid Work? Reality in Czech State Forests

PRESS RELEASE from the Initiative for the Rights of Migrant Workers and Initiative Stop Racism!
Prague, 18 March 2011 – Czech forestry companies that have been accused of the recurrent deceit of their employees from Vietnam, Slovakia, Romania and other countries plan once again to recruit workers for the season 2011. To support the workers’ claim for unpaid wages and protest against the slow police investigation of the case, two Prague-based initiatives will organise a march against the exploitation of migrant workers in Czech state forestry. See below for more details.

In 2009 and 2010 the companies Affumicata, Wood Servis Praha a PBM Union Jobs em-ployed hundreds of workers in tree planting and other forestry work. These workers were promised salaries ranging from 400 to 600 euros. Apart from not being paid for their work, they at times starved and were threatened by their bosses. “Nobody has ever deceived me in such a manner. This was a case of vulturism. I’m angry that they abused people in distress in times of economic crisis … I could have never imagined that this could happen in the Czech Republic,“ says Mr. H. from central Slovakia who wishes to remain anonymous.

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The aforementioned firms were subcontracted to do work for the Less & Forest s.r.o., which is one of the biggest forestry companies in the Czech Republic to be awarded public tenders from the State Forestry Agency of the Czech Republic, the Krkonoše National Park and oth-ers. The recruited forestry workers performed their jobs for a few weeks and even months working from ten to twelve hours per day. Often they received either no pay at all or only some deposits that were not always sufficient to buy enough food. There were cases when they threatened to stop working. Those who were persistent in getting their pay reported being threatened in case they filed a complaint with the police or contacted the media. The Vietnamese workers were persuaded to sign a “training contract” instead of a work contract. “Such conduct may be called labour exploitation. If there was violence, deceit or threats, it could be a case of human trafficking,” Petra Kutálková from La Strada Czech Republic com-ments on the case.

The workers contacted lawyers that have been able to engage in the case in the long run thanks to a grant from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe. “We strive to acquire at least a part of the unpaid wages and the punishment of the main organisers of this huge scam. We counted that only our seventy-four clients are owed more then a hundred thou-sand euros. However, there are hundreds of injured parties,” said one of the lawyers, Matouš Jíra. The companies also owe money to people and companies that provided accommodation, transport or food.

A “Week of Wood Labourers” with a number of events is planned for the week from 21 to 27 March ending with a march to take place in Prague on 27 March at 3 PM from the Ministry of Agriculture to the Ministry of Interior. These events are organised by the Initiative for the Rights of Migrant Workers and Initiative Stop Racism!

More information at: www.zapravamigrantu.cz and www.nerasismu.cz

The Week of Forestry Workers

During the The Week of Forestry Workers we want to attract public attention to the fraudulent practices present in the employment of migrant workers in Czech forests; express our support for the forestry workers’ struggle to receive their unpaid wages; plead for faster investigations into allegations of fraud; and help to stop further exploitation of workers in Czech forests, workers who have been exploited by their employers for years and face further exploitation this year. The week is organised by the Initiative for the Rights of Migrant Workers and Initiative against Racism!

The Week of Forestry Workers takes place from March 21 to 27, 2011 and includes:

– The March for Forestry Workers (the week’s main event)
Sunday March 27 at 15:00
In front of the Ministry of Agriculture
Těšnov 17, Prague (closest metro Florenc)

– Debate and Screening
A debate on the issue of forestry workers including a projection of a short video on the recruitment process (in Czech)
Monday March 21 at 19:30
Cross Club café, 2nd floor
Plynární 23, Prague 7 (closest metro Nádraží Holešovice)

– Infopanels/exhibition
Opening on Wednesday March 23 at 18:30; the exhibition closes on March 30
In the National Technical Library (near the entry to the night study room)
Technická 6, Prague 6

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