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Central Europe Hit by Ukrainian Labour Shortage by Bridget Ryder

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Central Europe Hit by Ukrainian Labour Shortage

Reuters reports that Central European countries are struggling to fill the labour gap left by Ukrainians who have gone home to fight the Russian invasion launched in February. 

The news outlet spoke to 14 company executives, recruiters, industry bodies, and economists in Poland and the Czech Republic who told its reporters that the departure of Ukrainian workers was causing rising costs and delays in fulfilling manufacturing orders and completing construction work.

In recent years, Ukrainians have been lured to countries such as Poland and the Czech Republic by job openings, eased visa requirements, and higher wages than Ukraine can offer. Reuters reports that before the Russian invasion, Ukrainians were the largest group of foreign workers in Central Europe. Poland and the Czech Republic hosted Ukrainian workforces of approximately 600,000 and 200,000 respectively, according to industry trade groups. Between March and June 2022, the Czech Republic was expecting over 1,000 Ukrainian workers to fill jobs in the automotive, logistics, and manufacturing sectors. Now they aren’t coming, leaving the companies expecting them in a labour lurch. 

“If this cannot be resolved quickly and opportunities for recruiting foreign candidates are not strengthened, it will have major implications, especially for manufacturing companies,” Gabriela Hrbackova, Hofmann Personal’s managing director in the Czech Republic, told Reuters. “Companies lack hundreds of employees for positions of production operators, qualified manufacturing positions such as welders, (machine) operators, metal workers and forklift drivers.

Hungary, too, felt the loss. It started hiring truckers from India earlier this year to provide needed drivers for its strong pan-European trucking industry. In fact, everywhere in Europe, the trucker shortage has been deepened by losing Ukrainian truck drivers to the war. 

In these manual-labour intensive industries, the lack of workers directly affects production and profits.

Wieslaw Nowak, chief executive of Polish tram and railway line builder ZUE Group, told Reuters one of its sub-contractors recently failed to complete work related to laying tracks because nearly all of its 30 Ukrainian workers had left.

“Many companies are looking for employees on a massive scale at various construction sites due to large outflows,” he further explained. “It certainly affects the cost and pace of work because if someone loses several dozen employees at the same time rebuilding a team takes far more than a matter of a few days.”

Fewer Men, More Women

While male workers have been leaving Central Europe, women and children from Ukraine have been entering in droves, fleeing bombs and destruction. But not all the positions left open by Ukrainian men leaving the country are easily filled by the Ukrainian women entering. Many of the jobs are physically demanding and there are limits on the weight women are allowed to lift, for example. Women refugees do not necessarily have the training that their male counterparts did either. 

To cope, companies are having to rethink their hiring and operations practices. Some are shifting their remaining male workers to more physically demanding positions and hiring women into the less strenuous ones, including offering training and recruiting heavily among refugees. 

Executives and trade groups told Reuters the impact of Ukrainian workers’ departures has been felt particularly hard in Central Europe because while Poland and the Czech Republic are two of the most industrialised economies in the EU, the region’s industry is less automated than in other countries. 

Though companies are reacting creatively, the economic impact will still be felt. 

In June, Poland’s inflation rate reached 15.5% and the National Bank of Poland predicted it would climb to 18.8% in 2023 while the economy slowed. Reuters also reports that the producer price index–a measure of inflation for businesses–hit nearly 25.6% in June in Poland and 28.5% in June in the Czech Republic.

Bridget Ryder is Spain-based writer. She has written on politics, environment, and culture for American and international publications. She holds degrees in Spanish and Catholic Studies.

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