reporter Central and Eastern Europe
At lunchtime, groups of men in yellow vests and helmets walk through the security gates at an industrial estate outside the Polish town of Plock. It is clear that they are not Polish employees, also from the languages spoken and the spiced lunch served. “Most of them are from Pakistan, Malaysia and the Philippines,” says plant construction manager Jakub Zgorzelski.
He points to the surrounding farm fields that are now full of container houses: cheap housing for the migrant workers who are working on the construction of the new chemical plant in Plock. For example, many welders and installers are needed for this, says Zgorzelski. “But you can hardly find them in Poland.”
In light of the current migration debate in the European Union, the situation in Plock is remarkable. Especially in Poland, which strongly opposes EU plans for joint reception of asylum seekers, Asian migrant workers are currently very much in demand.
In Hungary, which, like Poland, does not want to be forced by Brussels to receive asylum seekers, the same is happening. “Hungary must not become a migration country,” said Prime Minister Orbán. At the same time, his country is now experiencing a significant influx of migrants from India, among others.
Both countries are facing severe labor shortages. In the case of Hungary, this is estimated at over 300,000, in Poland the deficit may even rise to 2 million in the next ten years.
Many young, highly educated Hungarians are leaving ‘illiberal’ Hungary, as Orbán proudly describes his country. Another cause of the exodus is the low level of income. Transport companies cannot find enough drivers in both Poland and Hungary; Polish and Hungarian drivers prefer to work for a higher salary in Western Europe.
Truck drivers from India
In Hungary, companies are now flying in women from India to train them as truck drivers. “We really need them,” says instructor József Koroknai from driving school Füredi in the Hungarian city of Kecskemét. The driving school has been hired by the Hungarian branch of the Danish transport company Baton, which wants to recruit a total of 800 women in India over the next five years. “We give these women from India a helping hand so that they can create better opportunities for themselves,” says the owner of Baton.
Under a two-year contract, the Indian women can count on a monthly salary of 1800 euros. “I hope more women will follow my example,” says Ayisha Kammer from India, who has been in Hungary for three months now. “In a few weeks I have my exam and I can start driving in Europe.”
In Hungary, 25 recruitment agencies are now engaged in the search for Asian workers. In addition to India, the agencies also focus on Vietnam, Indonesia, Mongolia and the Philippines. The Hungarian parliament, dominated by Orbán’s party, recently passed a law that eases the procedures surrounding the new labor migration for companies.
I miss my children in India, but here I can build something to support them financially.
The Indian Sellammal Kumaran sits behind the wheel of a recreated mini truck cab, equipped with video screens. The snoopers in the hall of Füredi driving school make her nervous. Like Kammer, she has to drive off in a few weeks. Instructor Koroknai starts up a computer program that virtually trains Kumaran in taking dangerous turns.
“I miss my kids in India,” she says after class. “But here I can build something with which I can support them financially.”
In the run-up to the Polish parliamentary elections this fall, the Polish government is stressing the danger of migrants from Africa and the Middle East trying to cross the border into Belarus. The current nationalist-conservative ruling party PiS has called a referendum on election day in which Poles can vote on EU plans for asylum reception. Those plans would oblige Poland to receive nearly 2,000 asylum seekers.
The fact that PiS wants to stir up concerns about this reception among voters with the referendum is hypocritical, says the Polish opposition party Civic Platform. They refer to the construction of the factory in Plock. This alone will require 6,000 labor migrants in the coming years. Compared to those numbers, the group of asylum seekers that Poland has to receive from Brussels is small.
Residents living near the factory are concerned about the large number of migrant workers coming to live near the industrial estate. For example, when they walk down the street in large groups or go to the local disco.
Now there are still 500 labor migrants, but that will be ten times as many in a year’s time. “I think it’s going to be a problem,” says a man who works as an IT worker on the project, as he exits the supermarket near the factory. “The migrant workers look different,” says the IT man. “But we need them. Because in Poland there are no workers willing to do the work for this money.”
But the company that flew the migrants over has given guarantees, says local director Slawomir Wawrzynski of the district where the factory is located. “They only work here with legal work permits. And if they cause problems, they will be sent home immediately.”
Two Filipinos walk out of the supermarket. For the time being, they have only had good experiences with Poland, they both say. They have been in Plock for two months now. Before that, they worked as migrant workers in Saudi Arabia. “It’s a lot colder here, that takes some getting used to,” says one. “But we earn the same here,” adds the other. They don’t know how long they will stay in Poland.
- Highly skilled migrants as a solution to a structural labor shortage?
- More and more migrant workers on the street: ‘The reception must be more humane’
- A humanitarian crisis lurks on the border of Belarus and Poland