Germany mulls opening jobs for Poles, Eastern Europeans

Germany is thinking about opening its job market to professionals from Poland and other new EU members soon.The policy would apply only to skills that Germany is having difficulty filling, however. The country plans a general opening of its job market in 2009.When Poland and other Eastern European countries joined the EU in 2004, Germany felt it would need five years to open its job market. An immediate opening would lead to a flood of workers from Eastern Europe, cutting German workers? wages, it feared.In fact, the Germans could have delayed a general opening until 2011 under EU rules that gave older members a two-year extension if they could prove that an influx of new workers would create problems for their economies.But Germany is having trouble filling certain skilled positions, so it is considering loosening its ban on new EU members’ citizens taking those jobs, Dziennik newspaper reported.When the EU expanded, the 15 older members were worried about what an influx of Eastern European workers would do to their economies and their social-service systems.Only Great Britain, Ireland and Sweden opened their job markets completely and immediately.Some of the other older members, such as France, opened their job markets only partially ? by work skill.  Still others, including Germany and Austria, decided to open their markets after a transitional period.News organizations in countries where there was near-hysteria about Eastern Europeans flooding labor markets came up with the ?Polish plumber? caricature to sound the alarm.They contended that Polish plumbers would flood across the border to take the jobs of plumbers in older EU member countries at far lower wages. The Polish plumber thus became a metaphor for all Eastern European workers who, alarmists said, threatened to undercut the wages of workers in older EU countries.Some of the countries that took the job-openings-by-skills approach in 2004 have greatly expanded the number of skills that new EU members? citizens can fill. In France, for example, Eastern European members? citizens no longer need a work permit for more than 60 fields in which there is a need for workers.Germany had a special fear of new workers in 2004 because it had suffered from years of economic and unemployment problems related to German reunion. In early 2006 it began shaking off its economic malaise, however ? which prompted its companies to begin hiring. It now has its lowest unemployment in 14 years ? 8.8 percent.And it has a shortage of certain highly skilled people. ”We especially need engineers, technicians, computer scientists and specialists from the construction sector,” said Torben Leif Brodersen, chief of the German Franchise Association.The association and other employers groups welcome the government?s proposal to open some jobs to workers from new EU members.Achim Derecks, deputy director of the DHK Federation of German Chambers of Commerce, said it would be a good idea to hire skilled Eastern Europeans now. If Germany waits, he said, they may go elsewhere.Employment research indicates that 24 percent of German companies are unable to fill all of the job openings they have. The loudest complaints are from the export and services sectors. A chronic, continuing shortage of workers could hurt economic growth over the long run, analysts say.Some politicians are demanding that the government introduce minimum wages for the sectors that are to be opened to Eastern Europeans. They are worried about employers paying the newcomers less, thus reducing the wages of all workers over time. Derecks said if Germany focuses first on opening highly skilled professions, most of which require university degrees, the issue of minimum wages will become irrelevant. Polish government officials are watching the developments in Germany with trepidation. They fear that many skilled Poles will cross the border for salaries two to three times higher than what they are earning, exacerbating a skills shortage here.One government official said that if Germany had opened its job market to Eastern Europeans in 2004, many Poles who ended up working in Britain or Ireland would have taken jobs in Germany.Germany was “the safest solution” in terms of distance, said Janusz Grzyb, director of the Ministry of Labor and Social Politics’ immigration department.A group of Poles that is likely to find a German option especially attractive are those living along the German border. In Lubuskie Province, for example, the average salary is 2,400 zloty a month, less than half of what can be made on the other side of the border.

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