Black Souls

Black Souls

I have been working in an English school for the last three months. I still don’t have a work visa. Last week I crossed the border to renew my tourist visa, but when I got my passport back, it hadn’t been stamped. Now I don’t have a work visa or a tourist visa. My employer tells me not to worry about this. I AM worried – should I be?

First, you’re not the only person who should be worried. Your employer ought to be equally worried; he’s employing you illegally, and if the labor office finds out he could lose his business license. Because you don’t have work permission, for all practical purposes you’re practically not an employee, but what is called in Czech a “black soul” – someone who works without appearing on any official record. You’re getting your salary on a cash-in-hand basis, you’re not paying social security or health insurance, and neither is your employer. In short, you’re working here illegally, and stamps in your passport aren’t going to change this. If you’re caught working without official permission you can be deported (either by court order, or directly by the police); even worse, you can be banned from re-entering the Czech Republic for several years.

It’s time to decide what you want from life here. If you plan to stay in the Czech Republic for more than a brief holiday, you (and your employer) need to take the necessary steps to make your presence here legal. Yes, getting a work permit (or trade license) does involve an unbelievable amount of work – a long, boring and downright awful trudge through Czech bureaucracy. But at the end of the day it’s necessary, and you should start the process right now. Good luck!

Our employer insists that we work regular unpaid overtime, usually between three and six hours per week. We weren’t told about this when we started, and there’s nothing about it in our contracts. Can we refuse?

Your boss can only insist that you work overtime in exceptional circumstances, described in Paragraph 96 of the Czech Labor Code as “serious operating reasons.” This covers one-off situations where extra work is urgently required to keep the business running; it does not cover, for example, a staff shortage the employer has made no effort to remedy.
In deciding whether or not to refuse to work overtime, you must decide if this is the kind of exceptional case that could be considered “serious operating reasons” from your employer’s point of view. Situations arise in many jobs where it becomes necessary to work overtime, but as I understand, it compulsory overtime forms part of your regular weekly workload. This is completely unacceptable, and certainly doesn’t fall within the Paragraph 96 definition. It’s also worth noting that there is a clear legal limit on how much overtime you can be told to work – not more than eight hours extra in one week, and not more than a total of 150 hours in one year.

Of course, regardless of number of hours or soundness of reasons, you are entitled to be paid for all work you do. You are entitled to remuneration for all the unpaid overtime you have done thus far, and you should insist that your employer pay you accordingly. If he or she won’t pay, don’t be afraid to go to court for your money. And don’t be afraid to refuse to work further unpaid overtime, whether or not the business will collapse as a result of your absence.

Got questions? Send them to [email protected] or contact Klára Veselá Samková directly at [email protected] Your personal details will be treated with strictest confidence.

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