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The Warsaw Voice » Business » March 31, 2011
Business & Economy
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German Labor Market to Open to Poles
March 31, 2011   
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As the European labor market continues to liberalize, some employers’ organizations in Poland fear this may prompt workers to head out of the country.

As of Jan. 1, Polish workers can take up seasonal jobs in selected sectors in Germany without work permits. With no extra formalities, they can get jobs in sectors such as agriculture, forestry, hotels and restaurants, and fruit and vegetable processing. Other sectors of the German market will open to Polish workers May 1.

Germany is one of the last “old” EU member states to open its labor market to workers from new member states. Britain, Sweden and Ireland opened their labor markets immediately after Poland entered the EU May 1, 2004.

Despite fears, the flow of immigrants has benefited many EU countries, helping them report higher economic growth. Earlier concerns that Western Europe would be inundated by cheap labor proved to be unfounded. As a result, more member states, including the Netherlands, Italy and Spain, decided to open their labor markets in the following years, enabling Polish workers to take up legal jobs in these countries.

Germany remained cautious about labor market liberalization, wary of an upsurge in the number of Polish immigrants seeking profitable employment.

Admittedly, in the last several years Germany has presented foreigners with wider employment opportunities and since 2009 people who have had job contracts in Germany for 12 months nonstop have been allowed to apply for unlimited access to the open labor market and seek jobs to suit their needs and education.

But not everyone in Poland is happy about the German labor market opening to Polish workers. According to the Pracodawcy RP employers’ organization, labor market liberalization in Europe has been draining the Polish market of labor, especially as Poland maintains a strict visa policy for workers and students coming to this country from outside the EU.

According to Pracodawcy RP, Germany has been searching for professionals in areas that are short of specialists in Poland as well.

“We have plenty of job offers for IT specialists, engineers, carpenters and hair dressers in Poland,” Pracodawcy RP said in a statement. “Practice shows that as far as these jobs are concerned, it is increasingly difficult to find professionals willing to work even for salaries which are high compared with those available for other professions. The market for educational services is having difficulty meeting the needs of the Polish labor market. Shortage of experienced and qualified specialists is becoming a major obstacle to the development of enterprise in our country.”

At present, around 300,000-400,000 Polish workers come to Germany every year to take up seasonal jobs or be self-employed, according to Pracodawcy RP. The organization believes that when the German labor market opens May 1, this may have a disastrous effect on Poland’s economic growth and demographics in border areas, given that 2 million workers have already left Poland since May 1, 2004.

“One can hardly expect young people who are currently living abroad to return to Poland before they turn 30 to settle down and start families,” Pracodawcy RP said. “There can be no recovery for metropolitan areas which have lost well-educated, young people and that will considerably slow down their economic development.”

Research by the Polish-German Chamber of Commerce indicates that salaries in Germany are unlikely to prove enough of a draw to tempt workers to leave Poland en masse. For example, the minimum gross hourly rates of pay in German agriculture are 6.10-6.40 euros, depending on the state, which is not a particularly attractive level for Polish workers. In comparison, minimum hourly rates in the German building industry hover around 10-12 euros depending on profession and even better rates are available in Ireland, Denmark and the Netherlands. Furthermore, salaries in Poland have been rising faster in the past several years than in Germany, most notably in the building industry. As a result, construction experts can look forward to more attractive salaries back in Poland, the Polish-German Chamber of Commerce says.

In terms of the German market, the most sought-after workers are those who have the highest qualifications, have solid professionals skills and speak German. Even today they can take up jobs in Germany without difficulty. The Polish-German Chamber of Commerce estimates that eventually anywhere from 250,000 to 400,000 Polish workers may decide to leave for Germany, but no sudden “tidal wave” of immigrants is expected.
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