EU Job Market Squeezes Slovakia
- EU job market squeezes Slovakia
By Catherine Miller
BBC News, Slovakia
VW and other car makers have set up plants in Slovakia
Western Europe's building sites are full of East Europeans. And Tibor
Machuga has a problem.
"You'd have to be a magician to find workers round here," he tells me at his
concrete factory in Michalovce - a small town in the far east of Slovakia.
He wants to take advantage of Slovakia's building boom and has a contract to
work on an EU-funded project strengthening Slovakia's eastern border with
But Slovakia's membership of the EU is the source of his problem. His
workers have gone west in search of better jobs and better wages.
"We have increased the workers' pay and if our employees bring a new skilled
worker into our company, we give them a bonus to try to motivate them. We're
really short of people," he says.
Like bosses in western Europe, Mr Machuga is looking east to fill his labour
gap. Slavomir and Mikulas are from Ukraine and they are his godsend.
"We'd only earn about half as much in Ukraine as we earn here," they
grumble. "And here they pay you properly, every month. In Ukraine they promise
they'll pay you and then they don't."
Slavomir and Mikulas belong to an ethnic Slovak minority in Ukraine, which
gives them special working rights inside Slovakia. But most Ukrainians are not
allowed to come and find their fortune. There are strict quotas on work
permits and Mr Machuga says it is time-consuming and expensive to do the
"There is a great interest by Slovak businesses to employ people from
Ukraine and Russia and in fact it was much easier before we joined the EU," says
Vladimir Balaz, a research professor at the Slovak Academy of Sciences who
specialises in migration.
"For 2007 there were only 200 permanent work permits granted to Ukrainians.
The Slovak construction industry badly needs Ukrainians who worked here in
the past, but can't bring them now because of visa barriers."
But it is not just small businesses like Mr Machuga's which are feeling the
The Volkswagen plant outside Bratislava spreads over a massive campus.
Inside, workers in sparkling white overalls assemble Polos and Touaregs for the
Slovakia has won a reputation as the Detroit of the East and is home to VW,
Peugeot and the Korean firm Hyundai among others.
They were attracted here by the skilled and cheap workforce and investment
has helped to slash the stratospheric unemployment that Slovakia experienced
at the start of the decade.
"When I came here I found real security - you get paid on time, I travel
from about 70 kilometres away and my transport is subsidised by the company -
it's a good job and a good company," says Martin Horvath, who has been at VW
for five years.
Vying for jobs
But Martin and his colleagues are becoming something of a scarce commodity.
They can easily find well-paid work in the West and there are more and more
investors jostling for position in Slovakia, demanding their skills.
Bratislava's location near major EU markets attracts investors
Many major international firms have started bringing in workers from
countries further to the east. VW insists it is still committed to using mainly
Slovak workers, but has started a small pilot project bringing Bulgarian agency
workers to the plant.
"There's an imbalance on the labour market and we've been preparing for
this, working with specialist colleges to train students," says Juraj Kiripolsky,
head of personnel for VW Slovakia.
"We keep up with wage developments and offer our workers a social programme,
like transport, accommodation and other benefits. And we've also started
this pilot project because we have to think of the future".
In the coffee shops around Bratislava's technical university, VW's potential
experts of the future are in the midst of a heated debate about whether they
will stay in Slovakia or - like a third of Slovakia's current graduates -
seek work abroad.
"The opportunities in some fields are much better abroad, I'm studying
biomechanics and if I go to the European Union there are more possibilities to
work and learn something new - and money is also important," says Andrea.
"I won't leave my country. I think it's important to stay. I want to help
improve the Slovak economy and here - at least around Bratislava - you can earn
pretty well," says Martin.
For Slovakia's employees, at least, EU membership seems to be working well.
They can now go and sell their skills to the highest bidder in other member
states, and wages at home are creeping up, bringing them closer to the
But as conditions improve for the workers, there are fears that investors
will decide it is time to move on.
And if they do, there is no doubt in which direction. Further East.
You can hear Catherine Miller's report on The World Tonight, BBC Radio 4, at
2200 BST on Tuesday 23 October. You can listen again online at
_The World Tonight_ (http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/news/worldtonight/)
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