Contribution to EIRO thematic feature on Youth and work - case of the Czech Republic

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1. Regulatory framework

Measures regulating the labour market in the Czech Republic are targeted at three categories of young workers:

  • minors aged 16-18 (labour law treats persons up to the age of 18 as minors)
  • school-leavers, i.e. young people who have completed their school education (under labour law people are regarded as school-leavers for a two-year period after leaving school, but up to a maximum age of 30)
  • young people in general up to the age of 25.

The key legislation on the working conditions of young people is contained in the Labour Code (Act No. 65/1965 Coll., as amended) and in the act on employment (Act No. 435/2004 Coll.). The Labour Code establishes a ban on any discrimination, in this case on the basis of age. Fitness to become employed, i.e. to have rights and obligations and perform labour-law acts, is established at the age of 15. Work by young people aged up to 15 or older but while still in compulsory schooling is forbidden. The consent of a young person’s legal representative is required for the young person’s employment. Employees can only sign an agreement on material liability once they have turned 18. Employers may only employ young people for work that is suited to their stage of physical and mental development and are obliged to provide them with extra care at work. Young employees may not perform overtime or night work. Under-16s may work at most 30 hours a week, and no more than 6 hours a day. The rest period between two shifts for an employee under the age of 18 must be no less than 12 hours; continuous rest in a week must not amount to less than 48 hours for minors. Employers may not employ young people on piecework, because that would jeopardise the occupational safety of young employees. Additionally, young people are prohibited from underground work extracting minerals or digging tunnels and shafts, from doing work that is inappropriate for them, dangerous or harmful to their health, work exposing them to increased risk of injury or work that could cause them to seriously jeopardise the health and safety of other employees or other persons. Young employees are also given protection in the form of compulsory medical examinations before starting work, and in the event of a significant change in the kind of work, but at least once a year. Young female employees are also covered by special legislation governing the working conditions of women.

For certain categories of young workers reduced minimal wage rates are fixed by government resolution (no. 303/1995 Coll., on the minimum wage, as amended - the minimum wage is the lowest monetary consideration that employers are obliged under the Labour Code to pay workers for work done). These reduced levels are:

  • 90% of the minimum wage for the employment, or equivalent labour relation, of employees aged 18-21, lasting for a period of 6 months from the start of employment;
  • 80% of the minimum wage for the employment of minors.

The standard minimum wage was CZK 39.60 in 2004 (CZK 42.50 in 2005) for every hour worked, or CZK 6,700 (CZK 7,185 in 2005) for an employee on a monthly wage. The reduced hourly rates for employees in the first and second categories are CZK 38.30 (monthly CZK 6,467) and CZK 34.00 (monthly CZK 5,748) respectively.

The employment act defines groups of job seekers who are provided with extra care in the brokering of employment. From the point of view of the issue under scrutiny, these are mainly persons aged up to 25 and university leavers up to two years after completing their studies (but up to a maximum age of 30). Labour offices (in cooperation with the young job seeker) are obliged to offer to draw up an individual plan of action for increasing the job seeker’s likelihood of finding a job. This document contains a course of action and a timetable for fulfilling measures, corresponding to the qualifications achieved and the individual’s abilities and skills; the job seeker is obliged to cooperate in drawing up the plan and to follow it. Besides individual plans, labour offices provide underage and young job seekers with the opportunity to re-train for another job for which there is demand or to re-train to gain the job skills required by the labour market. Besides requalification, active employment policy measures targeting these categories of job seekers include a contribution towards on-the-job training and appropriations for jobs for school-leavers, various motivation courses and careers advisory services.

The aim of all the regulatory measures is to protect minors, school-leavers and other young people entering the labour market; to ensure that school-leavers enter the labour market and young unemployed people return to the labour market as quickly as possible; to reduce unemployment rates in these categories by raising and harmonising the offered skills with the demand for labour; to prevent unemployment among school-leavers and young people in general by means of an effective structure of all levels of the education system; and to integrate disabled or otherwise socially or economically disadvantaged young people onto the labour market.

2. National programmes on youth employment

In 2004 there were a total of 5,132,500 economically active people in the Czech Republic; 425,900 of these were unemployed and the rate of unemployment averaged at 8.3%. Employment in the youngest age category (15-19) has gradually fallen since the start of the 1990s as the education process has lengthened. Whereas in 1993 the total number of employees in this age category was 284,900, in 2004 the figure was just 33,300. Employment in the 20-24 age category has also fallen over the years, from 493,500 in 1993 to just 362,400 in 2004 (this development is also the result of the extension of education and the expansion of tertiary education).

In 1993, there were on average 38,300 unemployed aged 15-19; the rate of unemployment in this age category was 11.8%. By contrast, in 2004 there were a total of 24,000 15-19 year-old unemployed, and the rate of unemployment in this age group was 41.9%. Unemployment in the 20-24 age group was approx. 6.3% in 1993 (i.e. 33,300 unemployed); by 2004 it had reached 17.6% (77,300 unemployed). The Czech Republic has for long had marked regional differences in unemployment rates: in 2004, the highest rate of youth unemployment was recorded in the Moravia-Silesia region, the Ústí region (both areas undergoing extensive structural economic transformation) and in the South Moravia region. As far as gender distribution in these age categories is concerned, the higher rate of unemployment in the 15-19 age group has for long been found among women - in 2004 the rate of unemployment among young women was 43.9% (13.9% in 1993), compared with 40.4% unemployment among men (10.1% in 1993). By contrast, in the 20-24 age group the rate of male unemployment in 2004 was 18.6% (5.3% in 1993), compared with 16.3% among women (8.0% in 1993).

One specific problem centred on secondary education is unemployment among school-leavers. One of the factors impeding the transition from study to work in the Czech Republic is that employers have limited opportunities for influencing professional or vocational training, which often - even in practical training in apprenticeship fields - takes place entirely in a school environment far removed from the real working environment of companies and firms. Overall, however, there has been positive development in employment among school-leavers in the past two years: in 2005 in particular there was a fall in the number of unemployed school-leavers (for example, in April 2005 Czech labour offices registered 31,200 unemployed school-leavers, 10,500 fewer than in April 2004; in September 2005 there were 42,300 registered unemployed school-leavers, a year-on-year fall of 10,600). Compared with 2004, the proportion of total unemployment accounted for by school-leavers fell, mainly as a result of the fact that more young people are continuing their studies, basic military service has been abolished and the conditions for gaining unemployment benefit have been altered (since October 2004, the payment of unemployment benefit to school-leavers is conditional on previous performance of work for a period of one year at least in the course of the past three years).

The programme basis of active employment policy, including measures to support youth employment, is the National Employment Action Plan for 2004-2005 (NAP). The long-term fundamental pillars of the NAP are improving employability, developing entrepreneurial activity and creating jobs, promoting adaptability in employers and employees and strengthening equal opportunities for men and women. In the NAP the Czech government, together with the social partners, seeks to implement a number of measures to help improve the employability of young people entering the job market. Emphasis is placed on promoting the development of an individual’s skills and abilities and motivating them to work and educate themselves, and modernising the educational system in order to put in place the best possible conditions for every school-leaver to successfully enter the job market. There is also support for education, professional training and work experience in entrepreneurial and managerial skills in the relevant field of activity, which will enable school-leavers gain the necessary skills to start a business. In this context, the need for cooperation between the state - the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports (Ministerstvo školství mládeže a tělovýchovy, MŠMT), the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (Ministerstvo práce a sociálních věcí ČR, MPSV), the Ministry of Industry and Trade (Ministerstvo průmyslu a obchodu, MPO) etc.), the social partners and regional government in tackling the problems existing between the educational system and labour system is stressed. The primary priority of the NAP is to support the integration of or fight discrimination against the most at-risk groups on the labour market, including minors, school-leavers and young people up to the age of 25 in general (minors, school-leavers and young people in general are treated as a disadvantaged group that needs protection on the labour market and increased support; young people with multiple disadvantaging factors are particularly at risk, however: young people with poor qualifications, minors with a disability etc.). The issues being tackled fall chiefly under two government departments, namely the MPSV and MŠMT, in close cooperation with regional social partners and, in particular, educational facilities teaching apprentice subjects and organising requalification courses matching specific demand on the labour market for job seekers with basic education. The MŠMT´s task is also to ensure that pupils from special schools can move up to secondary schools by means of extra tuition, in order to improve the job skills of pupils from socially weak families in particular. Development projects taking place under the State Information Policy in Education are designed to support the development of computer literacy and increasing adaptability for a future working life for pupils with special educational needs. The expansion of the range of teaching courses on offer for disabled pupils who have completed compulsory schooling is also supported.

The task of coordinating implementation of the NAP is assigned to a commission composed of ministerial representatives and the social partners; the commission was set up by the MŠMT in accordance with the relevant government resolution. Besides measures coming under the authority of the MŠMT, the practical formation and implementation of measures designed to achieve the NAP’s goals is part of both passive and, primarily, active employment policy, which is implemented by the labour offices. The social partners (participating in the national tripartite mechanism) also shouldered the responsibility for carrying out certain tasks set by the NAP.

Issued at the start of 2004, First Opportunity is a programme document focusing solely on the issue of youth employment (the programme is aimed at a target group of minors and young people up to 25 seeking work until they have been registered with the labour offices for six months). The aim of the programme, which is implemented by the labour offices, is to offer young job seekers work or to help increase their likelihood of finding work, using advisory services, training, requalification and professional experience or other measures. Experience has shown that requalification is the most widely used measure to help young people up to the age of 25 to find work.

From the start of 2007 at the latest, a similar New Start programme, designed for job seekers aged over 25 (until 12 months after registering with the labour offices), should also be implemented by the labour offices. This project is currently being tested in the network of labour offices.

More general programmes were also formulated - for example, in the area of education policy: primarily the National Programme for the Development of Education in the Czech Republic, what is referred to as the White Book on Education in the Czech Republic (2001). This covers the development of all levels of education, including the creation of a life-long educational system; besides a number of other objectives, it is designed to create the kind of structure of education options that will help raise the likelihood of finding work for Czech school-leavers. It is the principle of the close connection between the educational system and the requirements of the job market and practical application in the course of professional, personal and social life in general that is the priority of the fundamental substantive and formal reform of education taking place in Czech Republic at the present time. Practical implementation of the principles contained in the White Book, however, is hindered by the need for savings in the state budget, the reluctance to abandon educational methods applied to date and the low public awareness of the changes in education.

A number of projects and programmes supporting the employment of minors and young people in the Czech Republic are implemented with financial support from the European Social Fund (ESF). In particular, these are regional projects taking place under the Human Resources Development Operational Programme and the Single Programming Document for Objective 3 (Prague). In the context of the ESF, one should also mention projects taking place under the Community’s EQUAL initiative (in previous years the ESF financed PALMIF projects in the Czech Republic). PHARE 2003 funds, which can be drawn up to 2006 as part of the final round of PHARE HRD, are also used to finance projects focusing directly on improving young people’s job opportunities, implemented mainly in regions with an increased rate of youth unemployment (e.g. Advice Programme for Pupils At Risk of Leaving School Early, Advice Programme for Elementary School Pupils against Their Social Exclusion - Most, Requalification of Young People at Risk of Exclusion with Accompanying Social Programme - Ústí nad Labem, Careers Advice System for Pupils At Risk of Social Exclusion - Ústí nad Labem, Increasing Job Opportunities for Young People At Risk of Social Exclusion in the Jaroměř Region, Help for People with Drug Problems Joining the Labour Market - Brno, Improving the Employability of Young People Through Transitional Employment - Pardubice, Labour Pool for Unemployed School-leavers in the Moravia-Silesia Region - Bruntál, Action Programme for Unemployed School-leavers - Znojmo, Job Creation for School-leavers and Providing Training for This Target Group - Brno, Preparing Secondary School and Vocational School Leavers for Job Interviews and Future Employment - Ústí nad Labem, etc.).

Another group of projects promoting youth employment and employability in the Czech Republic is part of the European Leonardo da Vinci programme. So far, the results of the programme have been felt mainly at local and regional level, i.e. particularly in the organisations that took part in the programme - most visibly in the vocational education system, because the participants were mainly secondary and tertiary vocational schools (by comparison, the number of participating organisations from the labour market and employment support and the number of enterprises that joined the programme was lower). These were mainly pilot projects involving Czech organisations as submitters and also partners, approved at the end of the 1990s, in particular projects designed to improve young people’s, including vocational school leavers’, access to the job market (e.g. Careers Advice Software, 1988, pilot project, Guide to the World of Occupations, 1998, pilot project, Regular Forecasting of Educational Needs, 1988, comparative analysis, Education and Employment, 1997, pilot project etc.). These projects are designed to formulate and verify innovative procedures that can be applied on a broader scale than locally or regionally (even so, the lack of awareness of the results and the lack of broader reach in their implementation are sometimes regarded as a problem common to all these projects).

3. Role and views of the social partners on Youth at Work

Another group of projects implemented in the Czech Republic under Leonardo da Vinci was those seeking to deepen cooperation between educational institutions and enterprises and to involve the social partners more broadly in vocational education, e.g. Advantages of Cooperation with the Social Partners in Lifelong Learning, 1998, pilot project, Innovation of Further Vocational Education in the Building Installations Field, 1998, pilot project submitted by the Economic Chamber of the Czech Republic (Hospodářská komora ČR, HK ČR), Social Dialogue, Motivation for Education and the Use of New Teaching Methods, 1998, pilot project submitted by the Czech-Moravian Confederation of Trade Unions (Českomoravská konfederace odborových svazů, ČMKOS), etc..

The social partners taking part in the national tripartite mechanism contributed suggestions towards the formulation of the NAP (as well as towards a follow-up Timetable for the Institutional and Technical Implementation of the National Employment Action Plan for 2005-2006 - the first employment plan drawn up after the Czech Republic’s accession to the EU). NAP issues formed one of the topics discussed at the 47th Plenary Session of the Council of Economic and Social Agreement of the Czech Republic (Rada hospodářské a sociální dohody, RHSD) on 24 June 2004. Here, representatives of the social partners drew attention to problems of apprentice schooling, where a number of fields have a shortage of qualified labour, to the non-existence of a unified strategy of state economic policy from which a knowledge of the need for human resources might be derived, as well as the lack of support for economic sectors that are able to increase existing levels of employment (e.g. trade and tourism). They also agreed to carry out or cooperate on certain NAP tasks, including the area of support for youth employment. For example, in cooperation with the social partners in regions and with schools providing apprenticeship training the MŠMT is preparing requalification courses for required specific vocations for job seekers with elementary education so that, after successfully taking difference exams, they can complete the last year of a two-year study course and gain an apprenticeship certificate, or possibly continue studying so that they can gain an apprenticeship certificate in a three-year study field. Through the labour offices the MPSV will provide a contribution towards on-the-job training for job seekers without the necessary qualifications or experience to carry out a specific job in order to motivate employers.

Developing cooperation with the social partners in education is the goal of certain other projects implemented outside the NAP: e.g. following up the Social Partnership in Vocational Education in the Czech Republic project, the MŠMT, in cooperation with the National Institute of Vocational Education (Národní ústav odborného vzdělávání, NÚOV), will strive to boost the role of and increase participation by the social partners in groups of training fields. As part of a project to standardise final exams, the MŠMT will create the conditions for involving representative social partners in social dialogue at national and regional level.

Cooperation between the social partners and schools is mainly spontaneous, however, and takes place outside the programme framework described above- (e.g. international and bilateral project coordinated by ČMKOS: Social Dialogue, Motivation for Education and New Education Methods implemented in cooperation with ETUCO, ITUC Ireland, CGIL Italy et al., Working with Youth implemented with DGB Jugend Rheinland-Palatinate, Social Partnership in Vocational Education implemented with the Czech government (Vláda ČR), the Dutch government and the MŠMT, or currently under Leonardo da Vinci II The Role of the Social Partners and Public and State Administration in Vocational and Further Vocational Education implemented with the Schiller University in Jena, IRES France, SEED Hungary, ISF Italy and CREWT Great Britain. Another example is the work of the Youth Council of ČMKOS (Rada mladých ČMKOS, RM ČMKOS), which has to a great extent traditionally been focused on the issue of youth employment, or the Youth Commission of KOVO (Komise mladých OS KOVO) - OS KOVO (Odborový svaz KOVO, OS KOVO)is the biggest trade union in the Czech Republic) focusing on cooperation with secondary vocational training colleges in pupils’ theoretical preparation.

In a number of sectors the sectoral representatives of the social partners have for long strived to strengthen vocational education, especially apprentice training, and to create closer links between apprenticeship teaching and vocational training in training institutions (e.g. in the metal industry, construction etc.). This is reflected in various agreements on cooperation between the participating subjects and in provisions in enterprise-level collective agreements and higher-level collective agreements (overall, however, the issues of youth employment and vocational training are not a priority in the negotiation of collective agreements in the Czech Republic).

4. Discussions and research

Youth employment or unemployment in the Czech Republic has traditionally been a focus of interest chiefly for the trade unions, even though this issue does not currently rank among the central, most frequently discussed topics in social dialogue between the social partners.

As far as research projects dealing with youth employment (most often in connection with the issue of education) are concerned, one can mention an extensive international project initiated by the OECD and financed by the MŠMT: Transition from Initial Education to Working Life, which was implemented by National Training Fund (Národní vzdělávací fond, NVF). The performs annual analyses of unemployment among school-leavers in the Czech Republic - attention is concentrated on identifying development series, the situation in different education categories, unemployment by training field groups and by regional breakdown, and the issue of long-term unemployment among school-leavers. Other research centres dealing with youth training include the Education Results Ascertainment Centre (Centrum pro zjišťování výsledků vzdělávání, CERMAT), Centre for Higher Education Studies (Centrum pro studium vysokého školství, CSVŠ), the Pedagogical-Psychological Advisory Institute (Institut pedagogicko-psychologického poradenství ČR, IPPP ČR), the National Institute for Further Education (Národní institut pro další vzdělávání, NIDV), the Institute for Information on Education (Ústav pro informace ve vzdělávání, ÚIV), the Education Research and Development Institute of the Pedagogical Faculty of Charles University (Ústav výzkumu a rozvoje školství PedF UK), and the Research Institute of Education in Prague (Výzkumný ústav pedagogický v Praze, VÚP Praha).

5. Commentary

Youth unemployment, which is the principal problem in terms of the age structure of unemployment, is a specific aspect of employment policy in the Czech Republic; besides the state, the social partners play a major role in this area. Since 1999 in the Czech Republic, the framework for youth employment measures has been the national employment action plans, in particular the NAP (for 2004-2006), drawn up in cooperation with the social partners (CZ0411107F). It is based on the European Employment Strategy, whose priorities and objectives it adapts to suit the actual conditions and needs of the Czech labour market.

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