EU states competing to attract Ukrainian workers
Ukrainians coming to EU countries following Russia’s invasion could fill significant gaps in national labour markets, but their possible massive return to Ukraine or competition among EU countries is causing employers headaches.
Around 4.8 million people from Ukraine benefit from the temporary protection mechanism, which grants them access to the EU countries’ labour markets. Moreover, 1.5 million Ukrainian citizens were authorised to stay in the EU before the war.
The large influx of people from Ukraine was seen as a huge opportunity for states currently facing labour shortages – such as Poland, Slovakia or Czechia. However, this chance could be easily missed.
“The refugee influx from Ukraine after 24 February 2022 was definitely a chance to fill staffing gaps for the companies struggling to find employees with relevant competencies,” said Nadia Kurtieva, Senior Employment Specialist at Polish Confederation Lewiatan business group.
Most refugees got employed in the production, catering, services, IT and communication sectors.
Ukrainian employees – both newcomers and those who arrived in the country before the war – are valued by Polish companies. “The problem, however, may be that Poland also has to compete for Ukrainian workers with other EU countries, such as Germany,” Szymon Witkowski, an expert at the Department of Law and Legislation in Polish Union of Entrepreneurs and Employers (ZPP), said.
Slovakia has similar concerns. According to Katarína Tešla, PR manager of Kariéra.sk job portal, Ukrainians helped the Slovak labour market, filling jobs Slovak were not interested in. This has been exceptionally felt in HORECA sectors as businesses struggled with a lack of employees after the pandemic.
Ukrainians also found jobs in logistics, construction or manufacturing. However, more qualified employees tend to not stay in Slovakia and only pass through the country while looking for a career in the western EU countries, where they can get better salaries and higher living standards, Tešla explained.
As EURACTIV.sk learnt, Slovak companies already have problems with Ukrainian employees leaving.
According to the migration rules in force, such a situation should not have happened. Ukrainians can only work where they have applied for temporary protection status and should not go to another country, but in reality, the situation is different.
According to Zuzana Rumiz from ManpowerGroup Slovakia, Ukrainians mostly leave for Germany, which also lacks employees in manufacturing or construction.
Germany is definitely not the only Western European country that could attract Ukrainian workers currently located in the Eastern flank.
“French entrepreneurs want to work and will welcome anyone willing to work hard – irrespective of where they come from. Ukrainian refugees are an incredible asset to French companies, and entrepreneurs across the country stand ready to train them and have them settle in work”, François Asselin, who heads France’s largest SME trade union, told EURACTIV in an interview a few months back.
Besides the concerns that Western EU members could take the Ukrainian labour force from Poland, Czechia or Slovakia, employers are also worried about Ukrainians heading east.
“If there were a more massive exodus of workers from Ukraine back to their home country, it would certainly not help the labour market situation, as some of them have already adapted well and found more permanent jobs,” Dagmar Kužvartová, head of Employers’ Section of the Confederation of Industry of the Czech Republic, told EURACTIV.cz.
“The Czech economy would be helped by the long-term stay of Ukrainians; we should provide them with language training and give them the opportunity to join the labour market according to their qualifications so that they will be satisfied in our country,” she said.
“In the course of the reconstruction of Ukraine, it is necessary to take into account the risk that Ukraine will reduce, or in the worst case completely stop, economic migration in order to have workers for its own purposes,” Tomáš Zelený from the Department of Trade Facilitation of the Czech Chamber of Commerce warned.
“Furthermore, foreign investors may also be tempted to use workers who have already been integrated in the country for a long time to rebuild Ukraine,” he added.
However, not all countries are concerned about the potential loss of the Ukrainian labour force.
On a general level, refugees from Ukraine are not an answer to Finland’s labour shortage, the Finnish Economic Affairs and Employment Ministry said, admitting that their contribution has been a great help to many companies.
The Ukrainians possibly returning home does not constitute a problem for the employers at the moment, the ministry informed.
(Aneta Zachová | EURACTIV.cz, Michal Hudec | EURACTIV.sk, Aleksandra Krzysztoszek | EURACTIV.pl, Pekka Vänttinen | EURACTIV.com)