15th Baltic Sea Parliamentary Conference
Reykjavik, Iceland, 5 September 2006
Kazimierz Kuberski
Vice-Minister of Labour and Social Policy
Mobility of workers in the Baltic Sea Area after EU enlargement
Ladies and Gentlemen!
It is a great pleasure and honour for me to meet you in this small but very famous city
of Reykjavik. This is the place where Reagan-Gorbachow summit took place, which
was the key element for deconstruction of the Cold War order. Reykjavik is also
known as an influential cultural centre, popularised among Europeans in 2000 when
it was chosen a European Capital of Culture.
Ladies and Gentlemen!
We meet today in a very modern city open to opportunities connected to globalisation
and European integration. The decision of the Icelandic government on opening the
labour market to workers from the new EU – Member States is a clear proof of that,
as consequences of this step will be most distinctly felt in Reykjavik, which is the
biggest labour market in Iceland. This decision is in line with the spirit of uniting
Europe – not only within the European Union, but also within the framework of
European Economic Area. For sure it will bring notable benefits for Iceland and its
capitol.
Nowadays issues related to the free movement of workers are crucial for
development of situation on the labour markets of the Northern Dimension countries
and the whole Europe as well. There is a growing need to run an in-depth debate on
economic migration, which the European Commission underlined by proclaiming year
2006 a European Year of Workers’ Mobility. The freedom of moving into and working
in another EU/EEA Member State remains one of the hottest issues on the European
agenda. During my speech I would like to present some current trends in labour force
flows across the Baltic Sea as well as to set out conclusions and recommendations
concerning future cooperation on this matters.
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Economic migrations across the Baltic Sea have a very long tradition reaching times
when Swedish and Norwegian Vikings where settling around its shores, which among
others resulted in foundation of Reykjavik settlement in A.D. 874. In 14 th and 15th
century, in zenith of the Hanseatic League expansion in North and Eastern-North
Europe trade flourished and high mobility of labour and services were observed. In
this context, the Cold War had been only a short break in a relatively free movement
of workers and services in this area.
What is the migration potential of the Northern Dimension countries today?
Nowadays there are around 150 billions of people living around the Baltic Sea,
almost half of them being in the most mobile age group between 15 and 49 years old.
80% of population concentrates around southern shores of the Baltic Sea in Poland
and Germany. These two countries are facing serious unemployment, especially
Poland where at the moment it exceeds 15%. On the opposite side of scale is Iceland
with the unemployment rate not bigger than 2,6% in 2005. A large gap in living
conditions and wages between Eastern and Western countries of the Northern
Dimension creates a system of push and pull factors making it very profitable for the
area countries to send and receive workers.
The Northern Dimension countries are facing today many common challenges, of
which the problem of society ageing should be mentioned first. Permanent
diminishment of working-age population with growing numbers of pensioners may
decrease the tempo of economic growth and in consequence upset trans-generation
balance and lead to inefficiency of pension system. Another big challenge is a
situation where skill shortages and bottlenecks operate side by side with high
unemployment. Paradoxically, this tendency is present also in countries of the East
and South-East shores of the Baltic Sea where high unemployment rates suggest
that labour supply is considerable.
Enhanced workers mobility in the Baltic Sea area would constitute a chance to ease
these problems to certain extent by balancing the present imbalance between labour
supply and demand. For the new European Union Member States citizens it means
access to well-paid jobs and enables them to improve skills due to gained experience
and trainings. When it comes to the rest of the Member States, access to cheap and
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effective labour force is an attractive perspective for improving competitiveness. In a
word – the free movement of workers should contribute to more dynamic economic
growth in the whole region.
The accession of Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Poland opened some new
perspectives for workforce mobility across the Baltic Sea. Not all of this potential was
used during the first two years after the enlargement, because among the old EU
Member States only Sweden had been decided to open its labour market for the
citizens of the EU8 countries. What’s interesting, workers inflow to this country was
few times lower than labour immigration to Norway. In 2005 Polish citizens were
granted just under 3 000 residence permissions on employment or running a
company basis, while in the same period of time in Norway, Poles were granted
almost 24 000 work and residence permits. In the remaining Nordic countries hardly
3 500 of Poles took up employment. These figures are very low, especially
comparing to the number of Poles working legally in Germany. In 2005 Poles were
granted 321 757 work permits, which was possible thanks to the bilateral agreements
signed on the beginning of the 90s.
Governments of the EU and EEA Member States had to take a decision whether to
maintain or lift transitional arrangements on the free movement of workers. In its
report on functioning of this interim measures published close to the end of the first
part of transitional period, the European Commission confirmed a thesis given by the
new Member States during the accession negotiations – the benefits freedom of
movement of workers brings with itself outnumber its challenges. Work of employees
from the new EU Member States has speed up the economic growth of countries
which opened their labour markets and allowed to create new jobs. They were
supplementing local workers rather than replacing them, and they were not imposing
pressure on the social security systems.
On the other hand, in the Member States which maintained the transitional
measures, a number of negative phenomena were observed, like for instance illegal
employment or abuse of regulations concerning the posting of workers and the selfemployment in order to get the access to the labour markets. Particularly distressing
signals were observed in Italy, where organized groups profited from illegal worker’s
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difficult situation by exploiting them, treating them dishonestly or even violating
human rights.
Encouraged by positive experience of those Member States which had liberalized the
access to their labour markets, Iceland and Finland opened their labour markets for
workers from the new Member States, when Denmark and Norway facilitated access
to theirs. For several reasons though, it shouldn’t be expected that it shall change
main directions of migrations from the new Member States, which particularly
concentrate on Anglo-Saxon areas. Certainly, the linguistic difficulties will be the first
main obstacle for taking up employment in those countries. Particularly among Polish
citizens, Nordic languages are not quite popular.
What’s more important, the number of the „old” EU countries which opened their
labour markets for the citizens from the new Member States has significantly
increased. Besides the above mentioned Nordic countries as well as Great Britain
and Ireland, the transitional measures are not applied anymore by Spain, Portugal,
Greece and recently Italy. The change of the political and economic situation made
these countries get rid of fears of the migrant influx and start to compete for workers
from the new Member States. Actually, British, Irish and Spanish entrepreneurs
actively recruit workers in Poland, searching for those with qualifications most
satisfying their requirements. These enterprises are supported by the public
authorities from their countries, an example of it were big job fairs organized by the
Irish employment services FAS which took place in Warsaw just a few weeks ago.
A competition for workers from the Central - East Europe is a new quality in the
framework of the debate on worker’s migrations between the new and the old EU
Member States.
A new element in this debate is also more careful attitude of the public opinion
towards the subject of economic migrations. Media often play a negative role here,
creating sort of emigration panic. It should be emphasized though, that the decrease
of enthusiasm for taking up jobs on the EU territory is somehow justified. We observe
some unfavourable consequences of migrations, such as negative social effects due
to family separations or loss of professional qualifications by qualified persons who
took up simple jobs abroad. Another problem is lack of several categories of workers
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reported by entrepreneurs unable to recruit properly qualified staff. Apart from the
fact that, as I have already mentioned, the registered unemployment rate in Poland is
around 15%, we have just finished work on legal solution which would facilitate
access to the labour market for citizens of the non-EU neighbour countries who are
indispensable for seasonal jobs in agriculture and animal raising sectors.
Obviously that is not to say that Poland doesn’t profit from the free movement of
workers. The most significant of the numerous advantages is a considerable increase
of remittances which results in household wealth growth. Due to the migration
opportunities, many of unemployed were activated. Abroad they acquire new skills
and experience which may enhance their potentiality to find a better job after they
come back to home country. Poland has a chance to repeat success of Ireland, to
which, together with coming back home migrants tempted by dynamic economic
growth came a stream of investments, even more stimulating for development.
The mobility of the labour force between the North Dimension countries should not be
hampered. We should strive to fully implement the free movement of workers by
removing legal, administrative, practical and mental obstacles barriers. We also need
to discuss the model migration management in the region which would ensure the
effective allocation of unused labour resources in a manner profitable to sending and
receiving countries. First of all, we need more effective cooperation in the field of
monitoring economic migrations phenomenon, informing workers on their rights and
obligations, fighting the illegal employment and fighting unfair practices applied by
certain unscrupulous recruitment agencies and employers.
When undertaking actions to increase the mobility of workers in the Baltic Sea area,
we shouldn’t evade answering the question if societies of those countries are
prepared to receive immigrants and cooperate with them. The specificity of the
Nordic social model confers an important role to trade unions, for instance in
determining minimal wages. Such strong workers’ organizations are also a domain of
the social model in Germany. That is why the cooperation in migrations management
should take into account a possibly large group of stakeholders, including national
and local authorities and social partners.
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Ladies and Gentleman,
The phenomenon of the economic migrations is a compound issue, including many
spheres of social life. Thus, it is difficult to present all its aspects in such a short
speech. I hope though, that I have been able to present my principal idea – that the
response to the challenges concerning the free movement of workers shouldn’t be
given by creating artificial obstacles but by running closer cooperation between
governments and other authorities dealing with mobility questions. Thus, I am glad
that The Baltic Sea Parliamentary Conference gives much attention to issues related
to employment, since an effective dialog is an indispensable step to find out practical
solutions in this matter.
Thank you very much for your attention.
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