There were 6169 unemployed young people in Estonia this January, which is about three times more than last year, said Küllike Arend, a specialist of organization EURES Estonia (EURES - Europaen Employment Services: www.eures.ee). She was also surprised by the low attendance level but added that most probably people use the Internet for necessary information and EURES Estonia has answered many questions via e-mail. Acquaintances might also play an important role for spreading work-related information.
Küllike Arend said that it is estimated that about 45 000 Estonians work abroad now: half of them in Finland and the remaining half in Ireland, England, Sweden, Denmark etc. Estonians would also like to work in Germany but this country has still not opened their job markets for workers from former socialist republics.
Küllike Arend said that people working abroad can be divided into two larger groups: a) curious young people who are interested in foreign countries, new experiences and acquaintances b) people that work abroad for the money and do not mind unpleasant living conditions for higher salaries.
Young people value experiences
The first group consists of curious young people who are interested in working and studying abroad. Working abroad means for them first of all fun, new experiences and new personal connections. These young people often start as volunteer workers and search for a real job thereafter. Two students from Noarootsi gymnasium came to the meeting at the Tallinn Youth Work Centre. Noarootsi lies about hundred kilometres southwest from Tallinn. Literally translated “knife Sweden”, Noarootsi is an area inhabited by the Swedes since more than two centuries and the local high school students learn Swedish language and culture even today. These two students Kersti Vait and Aet Viisitamm said that last year their class visited their partner school in Lidköping. They liked Sweden very much and are now interested in finding some seasonal work there for the summer – picking strawberries, peas, apples etc. They said that they are even prepared to work in the piggery with the dung if it means good company. High salary is not the most important thing for them.
People in financial difficulties
The second group of Estonians working abroad - on the contrary need money, Küllike Arend said. They are unemployed, have debts or too low salaries in Estonia. The difference between salaries in Estonia and in the welfare states of the Nordic countries has been extreme since decades. Bus drivers in Finland used to earn more than the president in Estonia and for a year’s salary in Finland one could easily buy a new flat in Estonia some ten fifteen years ago. The contrasts have become smaller now but there are still many Estonian bus drivers in Helsinki and other Finnish cities. Many Estonians work at construction and over the years hundreds of Estonian doctors, physicians and nurses have left to work in Finland, Sweden and Norway. Seasonal works like picking strawberries in Finland have been very popular.
Living conditions in Finland vary, depending on the place and type of work. Rumours go that living conditions are especially good at the countryside. But bus drivers and construction workers might have a hard time, sharing small flats in the city. But thanks to the higher salaries many can afford their own flats sooner or later and some have even brought their families along. But it has also happened that men working in Finland left their families in Estonia and established new ones in Finland.
However since last year many construction workers have returned to Estonia as salaries here are not so low any more. Estonia is also recovering from the lack of physicians. But now there is the economical crises and the higher salaries is one of the reasons behind the crisis – salaries were raised at the expense of borrowed money. The number of unemployed people is growing fast, too. At the end of February there were 46 411 registered unemployed people in Estonia. This is 77% more than last year. President Toomas Hendrik Ilves has predicted that the rate of unemployment might soon double; the current 7% may become 15% or even 20%.
The economic crisis has affected many countries and it has also become more difficult for Estonians to work abroad. There have been protests against immigrant workers in the UK manifesting “Britain for British workers” etc. The Estonian unemployed can now learn new occupations and hope that the situation changes.
Estonian National TV is now showing a series about Estonians who have found good jobs abroad and decided to stay abroad. This has brought up a certain discussion whether it is right to leave Estonia during hard times. But in general it is believed that these people will return in the long run, latest after five or six years. These Estonians would return with a broader world-view and better professional skills and thus in the end working abroad is good for everybody.