When people think of “refugees” and Europe, they think of Germany, Sweden, or England, as these nations were prominently featured in the 2015 and 2016 refugee crisis. However, Poland is very close to experiencing her own refugee crisis as Polish businesses are running out of workers and have been importing Ukrainians to fill the deficit.
Tawo, a Warsaw-based textile maker, is on the frontline of Poland’s struggle with demographic decline.
“In the past three years, we’ve been unable to hire a single Polish worker,” says human resources manager Aleksandra Rucinska.
The company, whose woven labels can be found on mattresses sold at Ikea, is one of thousands of enterprises in the European Union’s largest eastern economy that’s enduring a labor crunch.
It reflects a regional problem. In the Drivers and Disrupters Report, Poland—and other Eastern European countries, rank among the lowest in the world on workforce growth.
Tawo’s solution is to hire migrants. Fifteen of its 65 employees come from Ukraine and Belarus. Without them, “we would be in a bind,” Rucinska says.
That’s not a fix Poland’s government favors, even though the country has one of Europe’s lowest birth rates. Populist politicians vociferously opposed to foreign labor have thrown money at families to encourage them to have more children. Per-child government benefits, in relative terms, are more generous than the ones on offer in oil-rich Norway.
Hungary has tried similar tactics. It offers subsidies for seven-seat cars to couples who have at least three children—or a third one on the way. Bigger families can count on support to buy homes, and may even end up paying no income tax.
While demographic challenges afflict Europe as a whole, its Eastern flank is particularly vulnerable. The International Monetary Fund warned recently that the region’s workforce may fall by a quarter by 2050. (source)
This article was from October 2019, but it illustrates a major point that I have been trying to make.
We have discussed that the “migrant invasion” was rather a largely German-subsidized transfer of people from sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East into Europe to cause political instability. However, many of those people came because they were looking for better work in their nations since there is little and mostly low-paying work, and as they were being offered a free ride to Europe, they took what was offered to them.
A similar case is with the migrants from Central America to the US, except they are escaping the heinous violence from the US-created drug cartels as well as are looking to earn what is years and sometimes decades of wages in a single working year.
As noted before, if an American was offered the chance to earn two three, four, ten, or fifty years wages in one year of working, he would definitely take it most of the time because it is a golden opportunity. This is what working in a field picking lettuce or strawberries, doing simple manual labor, or other tasks that for the average American objectively cannot provide anything that a man can live on. A barely livable salary for an American of very modest means is a truckload of wealth for these people, who often send back large sums to their home countries.
Poland is now finding herself in a similar situation. As I have noted before, while Poland is technically Catholic, she clearly has not been following the Church’s teaching to “be fruitful and multiply”, for she is disgracefully tied for the second lowest fertility rate in Europe with Romania at 1.36 children and is only surpassed by Bosnia at 1.31. While it is true that the numbers for Western Europe may be lower than Poland when one subtracts the effect of migration from outside of Europe, the fact is that Poland has no excuse for her current numbers, as neither does the rest of Europe and Russia.
Poland has seen a notable increase in her standard of living since joining the EU. At the same time, this has created an interesting scenario because her neighbor of Ukraine lives in abject poverty. Wikipedia has a good article on this, showing that the average Pole earns more than two-and-a-half times as much as the average Ukrainian per month. To put this into context, the average Pole earns about as much as the average American working full time at the federal minimum wage, but the average Ukrainian earns as much as the average Mexican does in Mexico. In that sense, a Ukrainian going to Poland for work has almost the exact same economic parallel as does a Mexican crossing the border from Mexico to the US.
Poland has been turning away many of the Muslim refugees that poured into Western Europe, but instead have been inviting Ukrainians to come in their place. The migration has been so large that is has been reported that an entire generation has been “lost” in Ukraine because of it, and now there are over 2 million Ukrainians living in Poland. However, there is unrest from among the people as Ukrainians are now complaining of discrimination and abuse from people in Poland, who are telling them to “go back to their country” among other things.
Melnytska, then 19, enrolled in a university in the eastern city of Lublin. She worked long nights in a kebab shop, where she was paid about £1 an hour. Five years later she is still here and one of an estimated 2 million Ukrainians working and living in Poland.
While Poland’s rightwing populist government has rejected resettlement quotas for refugees from Syria and other conflict zones, the country has quietly accepted what may amount to the largest migration into a European country in recent years. There are about 400,000 Ukrainians on proper contracts but many more who work in the parallel economy or are short-term, seasonal labourers.
Many Poles say the government is asking for trouble by allowing so many Ukrainians to settle in Poland.
“Ukrainians are quite close to us physically and culturally, but if you build a multinational country you get political problems,” said Krzysztof Bosak, a former MP and deputy leader of the National Movement, a nationalist political force. “Economic mass migration for a country is like cocaine for a workaholic. It makes you more effective in the short term but after, the problems start.”
Many Ukrainians do low-paid, low-skilled jobs the Polish locals do not want. Unlike Polish workers in other EU countries, however, the Ukrainians in Poland have few legal safeguards to fall back on.
In Lublin, Melnytska said she frequently suffered abuse at the hands of drunken customers while working in the kebab shop. “People shouted that I should go home and was ruining Poland. One time someone threw a kebab at me, and there was one guy who said he was going to wait outside and attack me on the way home.”
She called the police, who did nothing except laugh at her and tell her that in Poland there is freedom of speech, she said. (source)
Things are hardly different here than in other parts of the world.
Likewise, one should also be reminded that in Russia there is a refugee crisis going on right now. However, the racism and openly violent rhetoric towards Muslims and people from the “-stan” countries is at a fevered pitch, and while the Russian government will put on a public face of “Christianity” and “patriotism”, there is open hostility among many of the Russians towards the migrants, nationalism being promoted as a result of it, coupled with a fear from the Russian government that due to the miserable fertility rates of Russian women that the peoples of Central Asia may once again conquer Russia west of the Urals.
Whether it is the situation in the US, Germany/Western Europe, Poland, or Russia, the fact is that problems related to migration many times come as a result of a refusal to reproduce. Either one has children and grows or stabilizes, or one does not and starts to contract and die. It is not an argument to say that all of these nations are at some level “importing” their “replacements”, but it is only so because they refuse to have families, and this is something done by choice.
It is also a good lesson for Americans and people living in the western world, especially for those who have children or grandchildren, and to help them to direct their ambitions for the good of their nation but also abroad. The world is a big place, and there is much work to be done in all parts of it. Life may be hard, but nobody said it ever would be easy.
Perhaps, in all of this, people in the West would consider, at least temporarily, migrating themselves, for there is much work to be done and wealth to be acquired for those willing to work.