“A man willing to work, and unable to find work, is perhaps the saddest sight that fortune’s inequality exhibits under this sun.” So wrote Thomas Carlyle and who with any experience of unemployment would dare to disagree? Good news, therefore, that in October Poland’s rate of unemployment fell for the ninth month in a row. It is still far too high.
At the end of October the rate of employment was 11.3 per cent, a reduction of 0.2 percentage points from the month before which translated into some 475,000 fewer unemployed. Indeed, 2014 has, so far, been the best year on the labour market for six years according to the Minister of Labour and Social Policy, Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz. He added that the fall in the numbers of unemployed was also partly due to a reform of labour offices implemented in May. Whereas hitherto labour offices had waited for employers to post job offers, labour offices now profile the unemployed. With the help of a questionnaire they seek to identify folk with problems who may have drifted away from the labour market.
And that’s not all. Deputy Labour Minister Jacek Męcina said that other new forms of aid to the unemployed were also launched in May including a voucher scheme to help to provide financial assistance to companies providing jobs for unemployed. Rising demand in several sectors of the economy – particularly industrial production and education has also contributed to lower unemployment. The Labour Minister, expects the jobless rate to be stable in November and to rise in December but not to exceed 12 per cent at the year end.
Be that as it may, despite this welcome news, there is cause for concern. One issue – and this is becoming an acute problem in the UK to where many Poles have migrated to seek work and, indeed, new lives – is the quality of the jobs in terms both of skills, development potential, and remuneration. For example, earlier this year Amazon announced that it was investing in three new logistical centres in Western Poland, two near Wroclaw and one at Sady, near Poznan. The company is still looking for a thousand more employees to work in the centres. Dr. Agnieszka Ziomek, from the Poznan University of Economics, believes that the Poznan labour market had been ‘drained’ of folk who have a good attitude to work, are motivated and are flexible. Poznan’s unemployment rate is just 3.4%, Amazon will have to bring in workers to Sady from up to 90 km away and is offering PLN 13 per hour, above the minimum wage of PLN 10.50 (assuming 120 hours are worked in a month – the official minimum salary is PLN 1680 per month).
Contrast this with news that Fiat Auto Poland is making 777 employees redundant in south western Silesia which, when the effect on other local companies is taken into account, is likely to mean over a thousand more unemployed in the region. The European Commission has proposed Euro 1.2 million euro from the European Globalization Adjustment Fund to assist the 777 employees made redundant by Fiat Auto Poland to facilitate the workers to find new jobs and obtain training. At the same time, Poland issued more employment permits in 2013 than any other EU country, the majority going to Ukrainians, who accounted for almost 170,000 of Poland’s permits, followed by Belarusians and Moldovans.
In the longer term, Poland faces a demographic problem with falling birth rates and close to record numbers of emigration according to the Polish Central Statistical Office. High unemployment and lower standards of living in Poland are often cited as the main reasons for the migration. According to Professor Maciej Duszczyk of the Centre of Migration Research one of the main factors influencing the scale of Polish emigration is Poles’ negative perception of the effectiveness of the state: they do not trust institutions, bureaucracy, the health service, or the courts. And a report from employers’ organisation Confederation Lewiatan shows that SMEs and micro firms, which provide some 60 per cent of all jobs in Poland’s corporate sector, struggle to survive. Apart from complaints about the tax system, 80 percent pointed to high non-wage labour costs as a barrier with half of the companies having frozen new employment plans because of restrictions and risks resulting from inflexible labour code regulations.
Just think, then, how gloomy the picture could have been had Poland not “avoided” recession, not exported so many of its unemployed and not received so much money from the EU!