By Roy Mabasa
The Czech Republic is opening up its strict labor market to Filipinos, citing the “good experiences” of their country with overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).
Martin Smolek, the current Deputy Minister for Legal and Consular Affairs in the Czech Republic, pointed this out in an interview with the Manila Bulletin at the Czech embassy in Makati City.
According to the Czech foreign affairs deputy minister, the process of choosing the Philippines as a source of migrant workers for the Czech Republic was not easy.
“We considered it very deeply, together with other ministries like the ministries of industry, interior, which is the ministry tasked to issue long-term visa, and with labor ministry which is responsible for the working market,”Smolek explained.
“One of our directors suggested to us, ‘Why not Filipinos because we have good experience with them’,” he added. “So we started thinking about the Filipinos two years ago.”
Why Choose the Philippines?
It all boiled down to at least four factors.
First, Smolek stressed, is that the Philippines has very skilled people.
“Even before this new scheme, last year we have accepted more than 300 Filipinos as workers and got long term visas for employment for them,” he pointed out.
“They are employed in different sectors, especially in the special care but there are more in the companies and industries.”
Second and one of the main reasons is the Filipinos knowledge in English.
“English play a big role because your people are really able to communicate at the very first moment in English as our companies do as wel,” said Smolek. “It’s possible to communicate, which is a problem with some other countries especially from Asia, for example Vietnam they’re not able to communicate in any other language.”
The third factor is the very low migration risk for Filipinos.
Smolek noted that there are other countries such as Vietnam where risk is specially high for migration after working visa period has lapsed.
In such cases, the migrant worker would usually disappear and will be in the Czech Republic on an illegal basis.
The final factor is that the Philippine government really cares about its people abroad.
“Your system is very strict which is very convenient to us because we are searching for those countries where workers are not misused and your system itself try to select the right people,” said Smolek. “Personally, I like your system which is very strict.”
He said those are the “very important factors” that pushed the Czech Republic to decide to start with the Philippines as a source of their country’s migrant workers.
“We will try to enlarge the system now and see how it will run, and we hope it will run smoothly,” said Smolek.
Last January, the Czech Republic announced that it has approved 1,000 job openings for qualified Filipinos.
Smolek said a substantial number of those workers who will be hired will go to social care as assistant nurses.
And if the system will run smoothly for both sides and if the Czech companies will still be very satisfied with the Filipino workers, the number of hired migrant workers will naturally increase he stressed.
One of the nine recruitment agencies in the Philippines currently transacting directly with Czech companies is EDI Staffbuilders International, Inc., one of the few private recruitment agencies practicing ethical recruitment and non-charging of fees to OFWs in line with Duterte administration’s stance to further enhance the protection OFWs and at the same time promote their welfare and interests.
In fact, it is one of the first recruitment agencies in the Philippines which discovered the promising labor market in the Czech Republic and who are now gathering manpower resources for Czech companies.
According to EDI President and CEO Cesar Averia Jr., Filipinos who are qualified to fill up the new job openings allocated by the Czech government will not be charged any single centavo once their applications to work in that Central European country have been approved.
Averia said not charging any processing or placement fees from their Filipino job applicants abroad has always been a basic ethical recruitment practice and advocacy of their parent company John Clements Consultants, Inc.
“All the basic principles applied by John Clements, we also incorporate in EDI,” said Averia in an interview. “We have always vowed that EDI will not charge any single centavo to any applicants who want to work abroad.”
For steadfastly carrying out ethical recruitment, EDI has been frequently invited to speak in Geneva during International Labor Organization (ILO) and International Organization for Migration (IOM) conferences where they are asked share their best practices with other foreign companies.
“Our basic ethical recruitment policy is that the candidate should not pay a single centavo,”Averia pointed out. “It should be employer pay system.”
Employment Scheme for Filipinos
Smolek traveled to the Philippines the previous week to introduce his country’s two new schemes for visas for long-term residence or employment.
He noted that the Czech Republic has extremely low unemployment rate, 3.5 percent, which is 0.2 less than in December the previous year, considered the lowest in Europe.
Smolek said in economic theory, it is the lowest ever a country can reach in terms of unemployment.
“We have exhausted all our resources as far as workers are concerned,” he said.
This is the reason the Czech Republic is now attracting more workers from other countries.
“Our main motive is to help our companies because we have big demands from our companies and they are complaining that they cannot enlarge their production because they don’t have workers anymore,” said Smolek, the first highest-ranking Czech official to visit the Philippines this year.
During his visit, the Czech foreign affairs deputy minister met with various government officials to discuss in depth the employment schemes: hiring of migrant workers for private businesses through local employment agencies and government to government.
According to Smolek, both schemes are possible or a combination of the two.
But during his meetings with local labor officials, he was shown several concrete arrangements with other countries, such as Germany, on the hiring of Filipino workers through a memorandum of agreement.
Such agreements, Smolek emphasized, were entered into not between governmental authorities but between the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA) on one side and the German agencies of workers on the other.
“It can be done as I asked your authorities if it would be acceptable to them,” he noted. “They said yes, and they want us to make arrangements with business association on one side and the POEA on the other side.”
Should they decide to push through with the first scheme, Smolek said Filipino applicants will have to go to employment agencies.
Currently, there are nine Filipino-run employment agencies which have direct experience with the Czech Republic or are currently transacting with Czech companies.
“We can build on that nine Philippine agencies,” said Smolek. “They will interlink with their Czech counterparts. On that basis, they can select the right people, make the interim procedure because I understand you have quite difficult and very strict procedure which is good for the other side.”
With all the needed documents properly certified, the Filipino applicant will then head to the Czech embassy in Manila which will in turn contact the person directly.