Velké Hoštice workshop, Czech Republic: Comprehensive approach
The sheltered workshop Velké Hoštice targets long-term unemployed people aged 50 years and over, providing employment in the field of ecology, largely in the break-up and separation of waste. The company is located in the district of Opava in the Moravian-Silesian region in the northeast of the Czech Republic – an area with one of the highest unemployment rates in the country.
Velké Hoštice began its operations in May 2002 as one of the workplaces of the largest Czech charity organisation – Charita Opava (Caritas Opava) – a non-profit, non-governmental catholic organisation. The opening of the workshop was preceded by almost a year of preparation in which the management participated on a voluntary basis. Currently, the workshop specialises in ecological disassembly and industrial activities, mainly in the pre-processing of waste. The sheltered workshop operates on a commercial basis and uses the tools of active employment policy to compensate for decreased work productivity linked to health-related incapacities. The workshop is not a social service; employees have at least 50% of a healthy employee’s productivity level and their salary is adjusted accordingly and on the basis of legislative provisions.
In total, the workshop employs 25 persons, four of whom are technical administrative staff, including two women. Some 23 of the employees have the status of a person with reduced work ability due to health problems, all of whom are aged 50 years or older. Originally, the workshop only employed men, but on the basis of a recommendation from the Job Office, it also began employing women; this was seen as a positive move both by the management and employees.
Due to the size of the company, social dialogue is informal. However, external supervision is carried out by a social worker, whereby anonymous feedback is obtained from the employees relating to various areas, including social networks in the workplace and, for example, based on the method of ‘giving advice to your boss’.
Good practice today
The establishment of the workshop was prompted by the personal experiences of both the current manager and the public official responsible for authorising all of the cases relating to unemployment and work incapacity. Based on their experiences, they saw the need for an institution which would help to overcome the initial distrust regarding the abilities and motivations of older long-term unemployed people with health problems.
Employees of the Velké Hoštice sheltered workshop were selected in cooperation with the local Job Office, with the main target group being people of pre-retirement age who have been registered at the office for three years. Once employed, the workers participate in a one-month training course, which is tailored by an integrated secondary school. The aim of the course is re-qualification and the provision of specialist knowledge, along with the re-establishment of work habits among long-term unemployed people. This includes health and safety training, which is designed to equip employees with the necessary skills – should the need arise – to provide effective first aid, thus adding to the sense of security of disabled employees. The employees are also given the opportunity to start work on a one-week voluntary contract, which allows them to test out the work and decide if they wish to take on a longer-term contract. A new member of the team is trained by a more senior employee, which increases the opportunities for knowledge sharing.
A specialised medical professional supervises the workplace, evaluates every job, and assesses whether it is appropriate for an employee given their specific health problems. At the same time, the professional recommends measures for adjusting the workplace, for ‘job rotation’ or for adequate physiotherapy.
The management continuously strives to improve the workplace. A front-man is present at the workshop and helps solve problems, as well as being responsible for quality control. The workshop is equipped with visual aids that assist orientation with the processed materials. Currently, new social facilities are being built that are separate from the workshop, with the aim of further improving the workplace and providing better facilities for relaxation.
The jobs at the workshop involve medium-level manual work, which is reflected in the four-hour working day; the latter can, if necessary, include two shifts – one from 06.00 to 10.30 and the other from 10.30 to 15.00 including a half-hour break. A six-hour working day had also been tested, which proved to increase the physical burden on employees without impacting on their work productivity.
The workshop aims to ultimately place its employees in the ‘unprotected’ labour market. The person responsible for negotiations with contractors also actively searches for job opportunities and makes recommendations regarding the workshop employees; at the same time, the workshop provides a frame of reference for prospective employers in relation to employees’ skills, capabilities and health-related incapacities. Velké Hoštice accepts responsibility for the employees and if they fail to progress in their new workplace, they are accepted back into the workshop.
The company also provides social counselling, pastoral care and advice in crisis situations, for example if the employee is experiencing financial problems. Moreover, employees benefit from material advantages such as purchasing waste wood for heating at bargain prices or the possibility of obtaining a recyclable product from waste, such as a personal computer (PC) that can be repaired.
The workshop’s budget includes an almost even proportion of profits and various subsidies. Special subsidies meet the costs of running the workshop and of varied social programmes for employees, including trips, cultural events and social gatherings. The main sources of subsidies are contributions for the employment of persons with a disability, contributions for the creation of a new job, and grant money derived from projects and budgets of the region or town. Funding derived from the European employment initiative EQUAL also represents a significant proportion of the budget. Employees’ salaries must, however, be covered by the company’s profits.
The company hired an external expert to evaluate the project’s sustainability. On the basis of its findings, it changed its policy regarding contractors, diversified its risks, embarked on cooperation with foreign companies, and engaged in a wider partnership with the community, the commercial sector, schools and local councils. The company aims to provide services that other companies do not consider profitable enough or too complicated, such as manual work, complex documentation, and the transport of materials; in this way, it aims to fill other ‘gaps’ in the market and to increase its competitiveness.
The future development of the business depends on acquiring ownership of the land on which the workshop is built. Currently, the rented property does not render significant investments possible; investment would enable the production programme to be enlarged and thus allow more people to be employed. The management is currently in talks with the city council and mainly with the Army of the Czech Republic about a possible new location for the ecological processing of waste. New facilities would enable the stabilisation and development of this business, allowing for a high growth potential.
The management considers legislative provisions as a significant problem. Although the new act on employment (Act No. 435/2004) introduced clear rules for subsidies, which up to now were quite vague and depended on lobbying activities, it has failed to address the de-motivating gap between wages and social or sick benefits. To date, the employees have been motivated mainly by the so-called ‘added value of labour’, such as a sense of usefulness, social contacts and renewed meaning of life.
The employment of the Velké Hoštice workshop’s target group plays a significant role in the prevention of social problems in a region with high unemployment levels, following the transformation of heavy and steel industries. Older employees are highly motivated and have a better grasp of work tasks, particularly if they have experience from various – mainly private – companies. They place a high value on the company’s culture, appreciate friendliness and open communication within the team and form social networks more easily with colleagues, as well as outside the workplace.
The case of the Velké Hoštice sheltered workshop thus embodies good practice in recruitment, as well as in the areas of job design and ergonomics, changing attitudes, exit policy and an overall comprehensive approach. The company has a strong and motivated managerial foundation, with clearly defined values and a business plan. It aims to be a successful social company, which has a significant impact not only on the lives of its employees and clients, but also on the wider community.
Contact: Leon Jurášek, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Burianová, I. and Šimek, M. (eds.), Zaměstnávání osob znevýhodněných na trhu práce převážně na ekologických činnostech, Opava, Charita Opava, 2005.