Although most Ukrainian workers living in Czechia are not yet leaving to fight in Ukraine, the Czech construction industry lacks labor, with hundreds and perhaps thousands of them being unable to return to the Czech Republic due to closed borders.
According to a number of construction companies contacted, a large percentage of Ukrainian workers return to their homeland every year at the beginning of January to celebrate Christmas, which takes place from Jan. 6 to 19. Many stay in Ukraine for a month or two, after which they return to work in the Czech Republic. However, due to the Russian invasion, a significant number have remained in their homeland.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky signed a general mobilization on the night of Feb. 25; the country has closed its borders and men between the ages of 18 and 60 are currently explicitly forbidden from fleeing the country.
“The bigger problem than the outflow of Ukrainian workers itself is that many of them were supposed to return here, but they are not,” said Ondřej Wachal, CEO of the construction company VW Wachal. “We have information that dozens of Ukrainian workers did not cross the Ukrainian border,” he added.
According to other addressed employers, also outside the field of construction, most of their employees of Ukrainian origin are waiting for the further development of the situation and are not leaving Czechia en masse. On the contrary, they often try to secure a way for family members who currently reside in Ukraine to come to Czechia.
“We try to help them as much as possible and we are ready to help them with the possible relocation of their families, whether it is transportation or help with providing accommodation,” said Pavla Hobíková, a spokeswoman for the Czech online store Mall.
The Czech labor market has been struggling with the lack of foreign workers for a long time. According to the Czech Chamber of Commerce, there is currently the greatest interest in Ukrainian workers since 2016. According to companies, the problem with the shortage of foreigners mainly concerns companies in the automotive, construction, logistics, and agriculture industries.
An estimated 200,000 Ukrainians currently work in the Czech Republic. It is the largest foreign working community in the country.
“There are still 300,000 vacancies here,” explained Radek Špicar, vice president of the Confederation of Industry of the Czech Republic. “The labor market is ready to employ a relatively large number of foreign workers.
“Men who are able to work hard leave and women with children are coming, which will be a force that can only be used only in some job positions,” he added.