With unemployment having reached an all-time high in January the authorities are looking for ways to create new jobs in the worst-affected regions. One of the projects in the pipeline, discussed at a conference in the Senate this week, are state-supported personal and household services which have played an integral role in the recovery of the employment market in many other EU member states.
Getting help with the household chores such as cleaning the house, cooking, ironing or gardening has become a fairly widespread practice in the big cities, at least for those who are able to afford it. Household helpers are part of the shadow economy and people providing the services are not insured and do not have employee status. Now the state is hoping to make these services accessible to those on medium and lower incomes by contributing to the cost and thereby creating employment opportunities for thousands of people.
In order to draw them out of the shadow economy the household services would have to cost less than they do at present. The state would set up special agencies providing household helpers, service users would pay only a proportion of the actual price and the state would make up for the difference in cost. Service users would pay household helpers with vouchers and the agency in question would pay out the respective fee, topping up the difference from public funds. The extra cost for the state could be compensated by tax-reliefs and fewer social hand-outs.
The state-supported household services project is up and running in 10 EU member states, including Austria, Germany, Belgium and France, meaning that the Czech authorities could avoid a lot of teething problems by taking over a system that already works well elsewhere. The EC has even issued a White Book exploring the strategic challenges faced by the personal and household services sector in Europe and presenting public policies towards personal and household services implemented in the ten EU member states. In Belgium the project helped create 150,000 new jobs in just a couple of years.
The project is to be launched at the start of next year in selected regions of the Czech Republic, after local authorities have mapped potential demand. At first household helpers would put in a few hours a day or week, but in time the agencies should be able to provide full-time employment for anyone interested.
The deputy-speaker of the Senate Zdeněk Škromach has warned against what he called a forced nation-wide introduction of the system, arguing the need to let it start slowly and grow with demand.
The agencies offering household help would work closely with local labour offices and tailor their offer and prices according to demand – providing household helpers for the disabled, elderly and families with children. Those providing several hours of household help to make extra cash would not be taken off the dole. According to the President of the Employers Union Jiří Horecký the project could make a palpable impact on the job market within three years, since it would naturally take time to draw established household helpers from the grey economy and establish trust in the agencies providing household services.