Pandemic exposed Poland’s dependency on Ukrainian Migrant Labour

As the coronavirus hit Poland, the government imposed strict lockdown in mid-March to curtail the spread and made arrangements for the repatriation of the Ukrainian migrant workers. Poland, which houses the largest migrant workers’ population in Europe, realized its dependence on them only after the economy gradually reopened and businesses started looking for workers to resume work. As per 2018 record, Warsaw issued 635,000 first-residence permits to migrants, making one fifth of the entire EU. Since 2014, nearly 2 million Ukrainians have become part of Poland’s economy, contributing in agriculture, construction, production, and logistics.

In May, as soon as the economy reopened, Poland welcomed its migrant work force in contrast to the attitude of other western nations who sealed their borders to eastern less developed nations. A similar hostile and anti-immigrant attitude was born by Poland’s nationalist ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party. PiS is one of the ardent opposers of EU’s new Pact on Asylum and Migration, which propagates the idea of relocation of illegal migrants within Europe. With different take on Poland’s migrant labor issue, economy is generally in friction with the administration, with the two struggling to reach common ground.

Poland’s business and agriculture favoured migrant workers as Agnieszka Kulesa, a labor economist at Warsaw’s Center for Social and Economic Research, pointed out that it was not only matter of work but also skill set.

“If Poles would travel to Germany each year to pick asparagus, they would become more efficient than an new German worker.”

Agnieszka Kulesa, Labor Economist at Warsaw’s Center for Social and Economic Research

The country’s over-dependence on a single source of foreign workers has become bone of contention between the two pillars of the state – economy and government. It’s latter who called such a scenario very risky as change in the direction of flow of labor force could easily hit Poland politically, economically, or socially. The business and economic requirement pushed even the not-so-migrant-friendly Polish government to accept new labor laws and extend their legal stays in the country. Foreign Policy reported that ‘last year, Poland granted almost 40 percent more work permits to Ukrainians than the previous year, allowing them for stays of up to three years’. Despite making small changes, Poland largely remained closed over the issue of integration of newcomers.

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Rashmi Sacher

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