The Polish Press Agency has reported that according to a CBOS poll, one in five Poles has worked abroad in the past five years, and one percent of those surveyed is currently working abroad.
The poll, conducted on a sample of about 1,000 adults in October, also reveals that about one fifth of Poles that have worked abroad have a higher education and 16 percent have vocational education. 29 percent work in their field of education, 20 percent work in the services sector and 19 percent work in unskilled labour.
19 percent of those polled are currently unemployed and most of those that returned to Poland did so because they were having problems finding work.
The CBOS report also stated that about 3.3 million Poles have worked abroad over the past ten years.
Meanwhile, Gazeta Wyborcza reports that in Norway Poles have recently been at the centre of a debate about the country’s social security system, after comments made by Raymond Johansen, the Norwegian Labour Party Secretary.
Last week, Johansen said, “They work a lot, often for 15 hours, often for little pay. There is no doubt that in the near future they will want social benefits.”
The next day Erna Solberg, the leader of the Conservative Party, retorted that actually Poles work under the same laws as Norwegians, meaning they receive retirement rights and benefits on the same basis as Norwegians, so they are not a threat to the social welfare system. She also pointed out that Poles working in Norway are contributing to the economy.
However, Julia Maliszewska, who has been living in Norway for a number of years and is an activist working for Poles’ labour rights in the construction sector, told Gazeta Wyborcza, “The problem is not Poles, but bad working conditions”.
She says that most Poles are hired by employment agencies, so they are actually not protected by the same labour laws as Norwegian workers. This results in income inequality, where a Norwegian construction worker earns about 230 kroner (27 euro) per hour, while a Polish worker in the same field earns about 140 kroner (17 euro) per hour. Poles hired through employment agencies also do not have rights to extended vacations or early retirement.
Maliszewska also claims that only about 4,000 Poles in Norway are collecting unemployment benefits.
According to her, Johansen brought an important issue into the public debate, which is the exploitation of Polish workers, who work longer hours, in worse conditions and for less money. Because of this they are indeed likely to lose their health earlier.
A part of the reason why the issue has come up is rising unemployment in Norway as a result of the economic crisis. This has put the focus on immigrant workers.
An estimated 150,000 Poles are in Norway, a country of about five million, and they are now the largest minority in Norway, ahead of Swedes, Danes, and Pakistanis. They work in construction, agriculture, industry and carpentry.
Although Norway is not in the European Union, it is in the European Economic Area, so its labour market is open to Poles. In 2009 alone, 42,500 Poles officially registered in Norway in search of higher wages.