The Exodus of Workers
Free movement of workers in the European Union and how it challenges the Baltic countriesThis February the Estonian prime minister Andrus Ansip commented on Finland’s opening its labour markets to the new members of the EU: some jobseekers have had to deal with criminal groups who force people to work abroad under slave-like conditions. This will stop when the job markets open. For instance the Finnish TV broadcast has shown documentary images of how Estonian strawberry pickers run into the forest when the representative of the Labour Inspectorate of Finland shows up. From May on Estonian workers no longer need to apply for a work permit. People no longer need to hide in the forest.
At the same time Lithuania has claimed that due to the open labour markets the emigration of illegal workers has increased as well. For instance an increasing number of prostitutes have moved to the open labour markets of Great Britain after Lithuania joined the EU. The Lithuanian interior ministry has said that some 3,000 women from Lithuania and the two other Baltic states, Latvia and Estonia, have left voluntarily or been forced to work as prostitutes abroad. Some 1,200 are said to be from Lithuania.
Qualified workers leave the Baltic statesThe fact that people with a high qualification leave to work in the Nordic countries is what worries the Baltic states the most. For example some 400 doctors and 300 medical sisters have left Estonia. It is known that in some small hospitals in Sweden the internal meetings are held half in Estonian language.
About 300 chauffeurs are working in Helsinki, Finland. They even participated in the transport workers strike in Helsinki. Many Estonians work in Ireland – most of them weeding chickens feathers. Brigades of construction workers have left for jobs in Finland.
People from Balticum even get invited to the Nordic countries. For example Viking Line recruited about 200 Estonians. These people would help the company to stay competitive with Estonian shipping firms which operate on the same route. The main consideration is that Estonians wage levels are below those of Finns. Companies mainly invite people from the Baltic countries in order to save on salaries. For instance the Swedish trade union blocked a construction site of the Latvian enterprise Laval un Partneri in Vaxholm some months ago because Latvian workers got far lower wages than permissible in the Scandinavian countries.
Open markets worsen the situationThe jobless rate in Latvia shrank in 2005 to 7.4 % compared to 8.5 % the year before. This is related to the outflow of the workforce, too. The Latvian Ministry of Economy has estimated that about 50,000 Latvians currently work in other EU countries, mainly Great Britain and Ireland.
The Baltic countries are facing the problem of a lack of skilled workers and open markets only worsen the situation. The only solution would be to rise salaries. But what to do if the Baltic enterprises do not have resources for that?
One possibility to halt the exodus of workers from the Baltic states is to use the support of the European Social Fund and invest in the people.
by Raivo Juurak, raivo.juurak(ät)gmail.com, translated by Krõõt Juurak