Article by: Interview by Olena Makarenko
What are the main issues Europe is dealing with in terms of migration? What is the place of Ukrainian migrants in it? What are the problems Ukraine’s neighbor Poland faces the most and how they can be fixed? Euromaidan Press addressed these questions to Luca Visentini, General Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation in Tallinn, Estonia, during the official’s visit to Estonia devoted to Estonian Presidency of the Council of the European Union. Hailing from Italy, Visentini has 28 years of experience with regional and national trade unions in his native Italy, and at the European and international level.
How does Italy deal with the issue of illegal labor migrants?
Italy has a tradition of welcoming people more than other countries. So there is no so strict policy in terms of resending back so-called illegal migrants. At least us in the Trade Union never used this term. We do not consider any human being as illegal. It can be that a migrant is undocumented. And this is a completely different definition which fits better the conditions and people. Migrants can be undocumented simply because the laws do not allow them to come to a country to try to work and have a decent life. The Trade Union together with NGOs to make sure that people can simply come, work, and have an equal treatment with other workers in a country. However, not all the European countries have the same attitude towards migrants in general. For example, now we have this refugee emergency. It is important to have policies not only to welcome people, but also to integrate them into labor market in society to avoid any kind of crime. In Italy, in particularly in the south, the black labor market linked to criminality is quit relevant. It also involves migrants and yes, this phenomenon should be tackled properly. But there is no negative attitude towards migration in Italy.
And what if we talk about the whole European Union?
The European Union is not addressing the migration problem properly. There is no joint approach and policy coming from the EU member states towards the migration issue. Each and every country is dealing with the phenomenon alone. And when you are in a country where a lot of flows arrive because you are on the border of European Union, of course you are more affected than others. There is very little help coming from the other countries to try to fix this problems. And even in Italy, which traditionally had a positive approach towards migration, there is a risk that some anti migrants sentiments can rise if the phenomenon is not addressed properly.
Are there any fears within the EU that cheap labor force will come from Ukraine after the visa free regime was announced?
I am not informed about the figures. The only figure I know because this was discussed several times with our Polish trade unions and also with the Polish government is that apparently, according to the Polish government propaganda I would call it, there would be more than 1 million Ukrainian workers that moved to Poland to work. And Polish government uses this as an argument not to participate in relocation mechanism for refugees who are coming from other countries. They are saying, since we have already one million Ukrainians, we can not take another migrants. Frankly speaking, I am not sure this is true. Probably 1 million is the sum of the same people coming and going back several times during during a year, or even a month. But anyway it is clear that at the moment, talking about Ukrainian migrants to the EU, probably Poland is the country which is facing the major numbers in this respect. We are not sure about the working conditions of Ukrainians in Poland. As we also not sure about the working conditions in other countries. What we know is that the trade unions in Poland are trying to do all their best to organize migrants. In particular Ukrainians to be able to protect them. It is not so easy because sometimes at some countries, including Poland in the past, migrants where prevented from joining unions in the country and this is absolutely unacceptable in terms of human rights.
Polish people are also migrating towards western countries within the EU. As well as people from other eastern European countries. Do you consider it as a positive or negative phenomenon?
I do not see it as a negative situation. Probably others see it like this, but not the European Trade Union. We think that if people decide to work, there is also a good reason. We have to make sure that they are not exploited and they can have a job and to be integrated in the labor market. By the way, the levels of unemployment in the central and eastern European member states is so low that we do not see a big problem in having migrants into this countries. The brain drain is really happening with Polish young workers, or Hungarians, in the Baltic countries or in Balkan countries. The number of people moved in the west of Europe and it becomes a huge problem for the functioning of the economies in these countries. They can not cope with this demographic drop on the one side. And on the other side there is an incredible gap in the labor market which they are not able to fill in. So I think there are several countries in Europe that really need a lot of migrants to be able to better perform in terms of the economy, in terms of the labor market etc. So having migrants coming is always the way to enrich the potential of the country and the economies and to make the labor market to perform better.
There are jokes that one half of Poles people moved away from Poland. What can you recommend to Polish government to keep Polish workers in Poland?
To increase wages. There is an emergency in Poland. The Polish labor market has two problems. It is very well functioning to some extent in a sense that the level of unemployment is very low. We have also to recognize that the Polish government tries to improve social protection, pension systems etc. But then the problem is that on the one side precariousness is incredibly high. 50% of the people who are hired to get jobs in Poland, particularly the young people, don’t have permanent contracts, but precarious ones. And another problem is that Poland is an EU country with a highest gap between productivity development and the level of wages. In the last 5-10 years productivity exceeded wage dynamics by more than 42%. This means that Poland is a country where the economy performs fine, where the level of unemployment is very low, but where the workers are poor. Poor and precarious. So the only way to convince young Polish people to stay in the country is to increase stability in their jobs first and then increase their wages. There should be an increase by 42% to cope. There is a big scandal going on in the Polish labor market linked to the multinational enterprises which are coming from the west, investing in Poland, creating plans in Poland. People there perform more or less the same level of productivity as German, French or Swedish workers. But if you look at the salaries, in Poland they are 20-25% of the workers of the same company in Germany or France. So there is enormous gap which must be filled in. And this will be also the way to reduce unfair competition between workers.
You’ve mentioned the migration crisis at the beginning. Are there different approaches towards migrants from different countries in the EU?
There are two different issues. One point is that there is in general a preference for highly skilled migrants. Few years ago in the European Union there was this rhetoric and propaganda about the fact that we should attract only high skilled migrants and the others should stay out of Europe. This thing decreased a bit because in the meantime we have the refuge emergency. So now we have another propaganda which says that we can welcome only refugees, but do not want to welcome economic migrants. But what is the limit line between a refuge and an economic migrant? If you have incredibly terrible climate change events happening in a country or extreme poverty due to scarcity of resources is this a cause for refugees to move or for economic migrants to move? It is very difficult to say. So we think that there should be a balanced approach and we should avoid discrimination between refugees and economic migrants and this is at the moment the major discrimination that we have in Europe when it comes to the migration issues.