In the aftermath of Russia’s invasion, Ukrainians arriving in EU countries could fill significant gaps in national labor markets. However, their potential mass return to Ukraine or competition among EU countries is causing employers concern, as reported by Euraсtiv.
Around 4.8 million Ukrainians benefit from the temporary protection mechanism, which allows them to work in EU countries. Furthermore, 1.5 million Ukrainian citizens were granted permission to remain in the EU before the war.
Member states facing labor shortages, such as Poland, Slovakia, and Czechia, saw the large influx of Ukrainians as a huge opportunity. This opportunity, however, could be easily missed.
According to Nadia Kurtieva, Senior Employment Specialist at Polish Confederation Lewiatan business group, the refugee influx from Ukraine after 24 February 2022 was an opportunity. In particular, it was for companies struggling to find employees with relevant competencies.
Most refugees found work in manufacturing, catering, services, information technology, and communication.
Polish companies value Ukrainian employees, both newcomers and those who arrived before the war.
Hence, according to Szymon Witkowski, an expert at the Department of Law and Legislation in the Polish Union of Entrepreneurs and Employers (ZPP), “the problem, however, may be that Poland also has to compete for Ukrainian workers with other EU countries, such as Germany.”
Slovakia is concerned in the same way. According to Katarína Tešla, PR manager of the Kariéra.sk job portal, Ukrainians aided the Slovak labor market by filling positions in which Slovaks were uninterested. It has been especially felt in the hotel, restaurant, and catering (HORECA) sector. It is where businesses have struggled with a lack of employees following the pandemic.
Ukrainians have also found employment in logistics, construction, and manufacturing. On the other hand, more qualified employees tend not to stay in Slovakia. They only pass through while looking for a job in Western EU countries. There they can earn higher wages and have a higher standard of living, according to Tešla.
Additionally, Slovak companies are already experiencing problems with the departure of Ukrainian employees.
Such a situation should not have occurred under the current migration rules. The EU only allows Ukrainians to work in countries where they have applied for temporary protection. Hence, they are not allowed to work in other countries. However, the reality is different.
According to Zuzana Rumiz of ManpowerGroup Slovakia, Ukrainians primarily migrate to Germany. They also have a labor shortage in manufacturing and construction.
Germany is far from the only Western European country that could entice Ukrainian workers from the Eastern flank.
François Asselin, the head of France’s largest SME trade union, said a few months ago, “French entrepreneurs want to work and will welcome anyone willing to work hard – irrespective of where they come from. Ukrainian refugees are an incredible asset to French companies, and entrepreneurs across the country stand ready to train them and have them settle in work.”
Employers are concerned about Ukrainians heading east. It is in addition to fears that Western EU members will take the Ukrainian labor force from Poland, Czechia, or Slovakia.
According to Dagmar Kužvartová, the head of the Employers’ Section of the Confederation of Industry of the Czech Republic, a more massive exodus of workers from Ukraine back to their home country would certainly not help the labor market situation. Concurrently, some have already adapted well and found more permanent jobs. Furthermore, the long-term stay of Ukrainians would benefit the Czech economy.
“We should provide them with language training and give them the opportunity to join the labour market according to their qualifications so that they will be satisfied in our country,” said Kužvartová.
Tomáš Zelený from the Department of Trade Facilitation of the Czech Chamber of Commerce cautions that during Ukraine’s reconstruction, it is crucial to consider the possibility that Ukraine will reduce or, in the worst-case scenario, cease entirely economic migration to secure workers for its own needs.
“Furthermore, foreign investors may also be tempted to use workers who have already been integrated in the country for a long time to rebuild Ukraine,” added Zelený.
Not all countries, however, are concerned about the possible loss of the Ukrainian workforce.
Refugees from Ukraine, in general, are not a solution to Finland’s labor shortage, according to the Finnish Economic Affairs and Employment Ministry, even though their assistance has been invaluable to many businesses. According to the ministry, the possibility of Ukrainians returning home does not pose a problem for employers.