Skoda’s agency accused of exploiting Polish workers

By Victor Velek

Škoda Auto has long been admired by businesses as a model of success, locally and internationally. But as the new year got under way, the Volkswagen-owned automaker caught a glitch in its transmission, encountering a problem coming from an unlikely source, Poland.

Following criticisms that began across the border, the State Labor Inspection Office (SÚIP) and the national ombudsman found that Zetka Auto, a job agency hired by Škoda, systematically discriminated against temporary workers it had hired from Poland, treating them worse than their Czech colleagues.Inspectors from SÚIP discovered that the hourly wages and bonus payments Zetka Auto gave its employees were lower than the lowest wages given to Škoda workers in a collective bargaining agreement and by law, said Iva Hrazdílková, spokeswoman for the ombudsman.

“For example, the night shift [hourly] bonuses amounted to only 6 Kč [34 U.S. cents], despite the collective agreement setting the rate at 20 Kč,” the ombudsman’s  office said in its report, published Jan. 27. “Given the fact that the agency employs several thousand people, its behavior can be seen as a mass and repeated breaking of the law.”Zetka Auto refused to comment on the case, but Škoda said it will work to correct the discrimination. “We will discuss the findings with Zetka, as we want to set the issue right,” said Škoda spokesman Jaroslav Černý.

The ombudsman’s report shines more light on working conditions that were first reported in late 2006 by the Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza when it visited Zetka Auto’s Polish workers at Škoda’s headquarters in Mladá Boleslav, central Bohemia.According to the newspaper, Zetka waited two months to give the Poles their first paychecks and then deducted nonexistent debts from their wages. Unlike their Czech colleagues, the Poles were not given work clothing and protective equipment like glasses or gloves. It was also common for the workers to take amphetamines to survive the 16-hour shifts encouraged by Zetka, the paper reported. After its publication, the story stirred so much interest in Poland that the Polish ombudsman eventually asked his Czech counterpart, Otakar Motejl, to get involved last year.In early 2007, inspectors from SÚIP investigated Zetka after receiving complaints from several Polish workers.

Although the agency found a number of flaws and could have fined Zetka up to 2 million Kč, the firm went unpunished, Hrazdílková said.Zetka continued to discriminate against its Polish workers until Motejl intervened, prompting SÚIP to step up its investigation. In October, the same inspectors returned to Zetka, which led SÚIP to fine Zetka 500,000 Kč in January, according to Ivona Foltisová of SÚIP. Irreplaceable agencies?Despite the criticisms of Zetka Auto, Škoda said it is unlikely to give up its agency-hired workers, which amount to about 4,000 of its total 27,700 employees.”Last year Škoda hired more than 2,600 workers and several hundred of them were former agency employees,” Škoda’s Černý said.

“However, we are unable to draw an additional 4,000 regular workers on today’s labor market.” The shortage of skilled labor makes the company’s cooperation with Zetka Auto and seven other jobs agencies a necessity, he added.Besides helping to fill the labor gap, agencies give Škoda room to easily adjust to changes in production volume, Černý said. “They give us flexibility, so that we are not forced to dismiss our own workers when decreasing the production output.””This is absolutely false,” said Milan Štěch, head of the Bohemian and Moravian Confederation of Trade Unions (ČMKOS). “Škoda’s output has been steadily rising in recent years.”Some two years ago, ČMKOS started gathering information on the use of job agencies in the labor market. “There is an enormous mess in agency employment,” Štěch said.Štěch contends that agency workers are recruited to cut personnel costs, adding that not only are they exploited, but are often used as leverage to counter demands made by permanent employees.

The use of agencies is also a means of tax evasion, he argued.For labor watchdogs, it is difficult to track whether agency workers are discriminated against and who is held responsible for possible maltreatment. Štěch fears agency-employed foreign workers will continue to fall on hard times. The government’s proposed green card program, which streamlines access for non-European Union workers to the Czech labor market, will only send more victims into the hands of unscrupulous job agencies, he said. (The Prague Post)

links: trade union rights and labour standards in Czech Republic


1 Response to “Skoda’s agency accused of exploiting Polish workers”

  1. 1 Pako^ October 17, 2008 at 9:05 am

    I am suprised! Today In a Romanian newspaper was write thet The Zetka Auto from Czech Republic search for romanian workers….

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