View Full Version : Eastern European workers

03-11-05, 13:37
Many Western European are concerned about the influx of cheap labour from the 10 new EU members of Eastern Europe. They are even more worried by the possible future accession of Turkey (although unlikely within the next 10 years), which would open the EU's borders to about as many people as the 10 new members, and poorer ones.

Newsweek : The Polish Plumber (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/9631117/site/newsweek/)

These same fears surfaced before the EU took in 10 new members a year ago last May, its boldest enlargement ever. The prospect of unfettered immigration spooked many governments, and at the last moment 12 nations exercised their right to keep a battery of restrictions in place for up to seven years. Just three—Britain, Ireland and Sweden—chose to open their doors immediately. By the time the controls come up for review next year, there should be plenty of data on hand from testbed Britain. Certainly, the initial returns look promising.
More than 130,000 job-seeking Poles have registered in Britain since the barriers came down.
And the Poles are only the most numerous of the new migrants. From Hungarian nannies to Latvian bartenders, it's a polyglot demonstration of the free market in action, with workers from Eastern and Central Europe finding their way to where they're needed most. Britain suffers from a shortage of doctors; the number of Polish doctors registering for work in the country has climbed eighteenfold since 2004. Last year alone saw an eightfold increase in Czech dentists. To grateful British employers—the country boasts 600,000 job vacancies—it looks like a win-win deal. The hosts get a ready supply of willing labor; the guests get a proper wage packet.

From this perspective, the enlargement seem to have a positive impact on the economy, both for Eastern workers and Western companies.

But try telling mainland Europeans. At a time of lagging economic growth and high unemployment, the stranger from the East looks especially menacing. In France, a jobless rate close to 10 percent means a big non to unfettered immigration. Worry over EU enlargement was one reason why French voters threw out the EU constitution in this summer's referendum, and the proverbial "Polish Plumber," an emblematic job snatcher, loomed large in the debate. "Do the French know that there are only 150 —plumbers from Poland working in their country?"

I was quite disappointed by the French "non" to the Constitution. Not only was it mostly unrelated to immigration (it wouldn't have changed anything), but many French people don't seem to understand that immigrants cannot take job that don't exist, and if there are unfilled vacancies because of a lack of French people qualified or willing to do the job, then it is better for the economy to let foreign workers take these jobs. These paragraphs illustrate this :

Clearly, there are lots of positions that can't be filled from the native work force, despite long queues on the dole. Economists call them the three Ds—jobs that are dirty, dangerous and difficult. Germany takes in 300,000 Poles a year under a system of seasonal permits to work in the fields. (Try finding a German to pick asparagus.) As for the craftsmen renovating those beautiful old buildings in Berlin and other east German cities after unification, guess where most came from: Poland.
History is on the side of free movement. In the 1980s, politicians fretted over the prospect of a northern Europe overrun forever by impoverished Portuguese and Spanish, then the latest members of the EU family. It never happened. Joining the EU has usually brought the kind of rapid economic progress that robs migration of its appeal. Why leave family and friends when there's well-paid work at home? Besides, the inertia instinct is strong.
More recent experience seems to reinforce the case. The migrant is no bogeyman. Obedient to market forces, he's not going where he's not wanted. Sweden, for example, has seen the number crossing the Baltic in search of work rise by just a few thousand, even after allowing unrestricted access. Explanations include a tricky language and a punishing tax regime. But the true cause is probably more straightforward: a Swedish unemployment rate that's running at 8 percent.

The French have little to fear given that their language is amongst the most difficult to learn in Europe and their unemployment rate amongst the highest. :blush:

In an open and changing Europe, Eastern Europeans workers are unlikely to stay very long in one place.

That makes Magdalena characteristic of the new-wave migrants. Early evidence suggests that most aren't planning to hang around long enough to burden their host nations in their old age. British government figures show that typically they're under 35 and single. Often they're overqualified for the blue-collar jobs they take. Indeed, more than half of Ireland's new-wave immigrants have college-level qualifications. And once they've amassed a little cash and experience, they tend to head for home. According to British government statistics, less than 1 percent—almost none, in other words—have filed for social-welfare benefits.
Result: higher tax revenues and a few more consumers to keep the British economy ticking over at a healthy rate. The government reckons the migrants' net contribution to the nation's books at about £500 million a year. Put another way, they've turned the migrant conventional wisdom on its head: these folks tend to be economic stimulators, not drones, and certainly not leeches on the public weal.

French people (and other Continentals) probably haven't realised that Eastern Europeans workers are not the same as Maghreban and Black immigrants that came hoping to have an easy life or escape political tensions in their country. What's more, most of the African immigrants in France come from ex-colonies and already spoke French. Eastern Europeans would need to learn French to work in France, which requires an additional motivation.

It's well worth reading the full article if you are interested in this subject.

03-11-05, 14:37
Recently in my town there has been a recruitment crisis for bus drivers, and I know that many of the positions have been filled by Polish immigrants. Poles are the most numerous minority here anyway, and have been for a long time, so the community is well established. From the UK point of view I think it's a good thing, as it's hard to see who loses out in this situation - the positions are filled, and the immigrants have work. Of course, that's not taking into account how it might affect the situation in Poland - maybe Index has a perspective on this?

04-11-05, 04:49
I had read this article too and I thought it was good because it breaks down that common fear of immigrants taking "our" jobs. It is common here in Ausralia where I am living now, particularly in the agricultural sector where farmers are fearing foreign imports of produce. They have managed to get a bill passed which requires detailed country of origin labelling on products. I haven't come across many Polish domestic arguments against Poles working abroad-in fact it's good for Poland where the unemployment rate is ~20%. It's also a good source of national income as much of the money made abroad comes back to Poland since, as the article states, most people are only short term workers who return reltively soon, and probably send money back home to their families. It's good for cultural awareness, and Poles learning English or other languages. I think it will lead to the EU assessing work and immigration policies to remove any discrepancies or inequalities as these issues come up (c.f. striking Polish workers at Tesco due to unfair working conditions, very low wages etc.), and go some way in changing anti-EU opinions that go along the lines of 'too much money going to new members in subsidies' etc. when people see the positive benefits of having new immigration and employment flows. I guess the process continues down the line in a sense, as Poland is itself having a shortage of workers in the building and construction industry (they must all be in Germany) and is revising regulations for allowing workers from the East.

Wanted: Polish Workers (http://news.yahoo.com/s/latimests/20051027/ts_latimes/wantedpolishworkers)